Artifact of old-school Chicago politics on trial

CHICAGO — The grizzled Chicago Democrat has compared himself to a virile hog, likened a then-chief prosecutor to a Nazi and bragged about directing government investigators to kiss his posterior.

William Beavers’ you-can’t-touch-me bravado will be put to the test as the former police officer-turned-politician beats a path — well-worn in Illinois — to a federal courthouse for testimony in his tax-evasion trial this week.

The combative Cook County commissioner stands accused of diverting more than $225,000 from campaign coffers to feed a casino-gambling habit and for other personal use without reporting it. Jury selection began Monday, and opening statements are expected later this week.

With his booming voice and devil-may-care persona, the 77-year-old Beavers is seen by many as an artifact old-school Chicago pols.

“He’s of a generation that felt, if you win election, the seat isn’t in the public trust — it’s yours as a spoil of war,” said David Morrison, of Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. “You now have license to look out for yourself and your family.”

Beavers’ fondness for gambling will feature prominently at the trial, according to prosecutors, who say that points to his motive. Beavers also is accused of failing to declare that he took more than $68,000 in campaign money and put it in a city fund to bump the monthly pension he got for his years as an alderman from nearly $3,000 to more than $6,000.

There’s a bit of deja vu at Beavers’ trial. It’s taking place in the same courtroom as that of disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The judge is the same, as are many of the defense attorneys and some of the prosecutors.

Blagojevich, whose case wasn’t otherwise linked to Beavers’, is serving a 14-year prison sentence on multiple corruption convictions, including charges that he tried to sell President Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat.

One question, says Tom Gradel, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is whether Chicago politics is no longer as corrupt as it once was.

“Beavers wasn’t bashful about talking about his wheeling and dealing,” he said. “But I don’t see too much difference in the new school. Now, it’s about campaign contributions, whereas old school may have relied on kickback from employees.”

Politicians, he said, operate “on the borders between what’s acceptable and criminal” and are good at adapting to stay on that line.

“Once that line is changed by law enforcement, they move into different grayer areas — away from the clearly criminal areas,” he said.

Other much-younger Illinois politicians have recently found themselves in legal trouble. Last month, 47-year-old Jesse Jackson Jr., once viewed hopefully as a new-age politician, resigned from Congress amid an investigation of his campaign finances.

One of Beavers’ attorneys is Sam Adam Jr., who was Blagojevich’s lead lawyer at the Democrat governor’s first corruption trial. That trial ended with the jury deadlocked on all but one charge, leading to a second decisive trial.

Adam’s penchant for showmanship and delighting in verbal brawls meshes well with Beavers’ public image.

Beavers’ most famous rhetorical flourish came several years ago when he offered a favorable estimation of his own influence by calling himself “a hog with big nuts.”

He’s hardly proven a wilting flower since his February indictment.

Within minutes of entering a not guilty plea, he walked down to the lobby of Chicago’s federal courthouse and accused then-U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of using “Gestapo-type tactics” to win convictions. Fitzgerald, who was responsible for the indictment of Blagojevich and dozens of other Illinois politicians, retired over the summer to enter private practice.

Beavers has said he was indicted in an act of retribution by investigators for refusing to wear a wire against another county commissioner, John Daley, the brother of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Beavers has said he paid all the money at issue in his tax case — albeit only after he realized he was under investigation.

He has pleaded not guilty to three counts of filing false tax returns and one of obstructing the Internal Revenue Service. Each count carries a maximum three-year prison sentence.

More in Local News

Outgoing councilwoman honored by Marysville Fire District

The Marysville Fire District in December honored outgoing City Councilwoman Donna Wright… Continue reading

Everett district relents on eminent domain moving expenses

Homeowners near Bothell still must be out by April to make way for a planned new high school.

Their grown children died, but state law won’t let them sue

Families are seeking a change in the state’s limiting wrongful-death law.

Officials rule train-pedestrian death an accident

The 37-year-old man was trying to move off the tracks when the train hit him, police say.

Ex-Monroe cop re-arrested after losing sex crime case appeal

He was sentenced to 14 months in prison but was free while trying to get his conviction overturned.

Marysville hit-and-run leaves man with broken bones

The state patrol has asked for help solving an increasing number of hit-and-run cases in the state.

Everett man killed at bar had criminal history, gang ties

A bar employee reportedly shot Matalepuna Malu, 29, whose street name was “June Bug.”

2 names released from recent fatal crashes

Both men were killed earlier this month.

Judge: Lawmakers’ emails, texts subject to public disclosure

News organizations had sued to challenge the Legislature’s claim that members were exempt.

Most Read