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Unrepentant Beavers sentenced to 6 months in prison

Thursday, September 26, 2013
Chicago Tribune
by Jason Meisner

Minutes after he was sentenced Wednesday to six months in prison on tax evasion charges, an unrepentant former Cook County Commissioner William Beavers stood in the lobby of the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, flashed a grin and insisted life was good.

"Look, I'm retired. I shop. I go to the store. I golf," the 78-year-old Democratic stalwart said in his trademark gravelly voice. "I do anything and everything I want to do."

For Beavers — convicted in March of failing to pay taxes on hundreds of thousands of dollars he took out of his campaign fund and used for gambling and other personal expenses — it was a typical exchange with reporters, sprinkled with his mix of sharp wit, indignation and a few choice expletives.

But it was a far cry from his demeanor in court moments earlier when Beavers, asked by U.S. District Judge James Zagel if he had anything to say before his sentencing, simply shook his head side to side, put on his eyeglasses and folded his hands in front of him.

The former Chicago cop and alderman who has long championed the city's machine politics had no reaction as Zagel sentenced him to six months behind bars and ordered him to pay a $10,000 fine and just under $39,000 in back taxes. The judge also ordered Beavers to refrain from gambling and perform 400 hours of community service after his release.

The sentencing hearing was quick by federal court standards — less than an hour — and had none of the usual trappings. There were no witnesses who testified on Beavers' behalf or heartfelt letters submitted to the judge attesting to his character. Afterward, Beavers said such a song-and-dance isn't in his nature.

"Like I say, I ain't begging for nothing. I don't beg my woman, so you know I won't beg the judge, all right?" he said.

While rejecting the defense request for probation, Zagel's sentence fell far short of the 21-month term sought by prosecutors who painted Beavers as a corrupt politician who has no sense of remorse or responsibility for his actions. Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Getter asked the judge to send a message to other elected officials who think it's worth breaking the law because they either won't get caught or will wind up with a slap on the wrist.

"It's not going to change unless the risk/reward analysis for these people changes," Getter said.

In his decision, Zagel disputed that the case was one of political corruption, saying the crimes Beavers committed were common tax evasion. Still, the judge said that wrongdoing of any kind by a public official "damages the bonds between the people and those they elect, making it far more difficult for the government to perform its function."

After the hearing, U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro voiced rare disagreement with Zagel's sentence, saying Beavers had shown nothing but scorn for the government and "effectively embezzled" money given to him by private citizens for campaign purposes.

"We asked for more. I think more was justified," Shapiro said. "This is a classic abuse of trust in a community and a state and in a country where politicians are held in extremely low esteem, and I think this just adds to that picture."

Prosecutors alleged at trial that Beavers used his campaign funds from 2006 through 2008 as if they were cash machines, blowing the money on slots at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond. While Beavers was not charged with any gambling-related offenses, casino records presented at trial showed Beavers clocking in and out of the casino multiple times during the same days. In all he lost nearly half a million dollars over the three-year period, according to evidence at trial.

Since his arrest last year, Beavers has repeatedly accused the government of going after him because he refused to wear a wire on fellow Cook County Commissioner John Daley, a brother of former Mayor Richard Daley's. On Wednesday he said the people of his South Side community love him for standing up to an overbearing government.

"They never came to me and said you owe some taxes," Beavers said. "They sent the FBI to try to make me a stool pigeon. And I'm not a stool pigeon. I'm not gonna be a stool pigeon."

Shapiro said Beavers was never asked to wear a wire, but either way the claim was "beside the point."

"It's one thing to approach someone with a total bluff. It's another thing to ... prove their crimes beyond a reasonable doubt," Shapiro said.

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