Minutes after pleading not guilty to federal tax charges Friday, influential Cook County Commissioner William Beavers lashed out at Chicago's federal prosecutor, calling him a "wild man" who uses Gestapo-type tactics to ensnare innocent people.
Beavers, 77, told reporters after his brief arraignment that he "does not owe the government any money; no taxes. And I do not owe my committee any money, is that understood?"
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Prosecutors claim Beavers diverted thousands of dollars from campaign accounts and a monthly county commissioner's stipend for personal use without reporting it as income on tax returns and then covered up his actions. A grand jury last Thursday indicted him on three counts of filing false federal income tax returns and one count of obstructing the Internal Revenue Service.
Beavers, an influential player in Chicago's Democratic circles for decades and known for his bravado, claimed he was indicted for refusing to wear a wire against another county commissioner, John Daley, the brother of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald last week refused to comment on that allegation or say whether the investigation that led to Beavers' indictment was part of a broader political corruption probe.
A person in John Daley's office said Friday that the commissioner would have no comment.
Beavers claimed that Fitzgerald, who has won convictions against scores of county and city officials and former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, "was like a wild man" and that his tactics led to the suicides of three people, including former Blagojevich adviser Christopher Kelly, who killed himself with a combination of pain reliever and rat poison days before he was to report to prison and serve at least eight years for fraud.
Kelly, who faced other charges as a Blagojevich co-defendant, had refused to cooperate in the government's investigation of the former governor in exchange for a reduced sentence.
U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Randall Samborn would not comment on Beavers' accusations.
Prosecutors claim Beavers diverted more than $226,000 from campaign accounts and used a $1,200 monthly county contingency account for personal use. They didn't say how much allegedly wasn't reported to the IRS, but claim he used more than $68,000 in 2006 to boost his city pension and between 2006 and 2008.
The indictment alleges that Beavers had sole authority over three campaign committees and had staff members write checks to him and third parties on his behalf -- including 100 checks payable to Beavers that totaled more than $226,000.
He allegedly hid the true use of the campaign funds, telling staff that the checks were being used to pay for campaign-related expenses or by having staffers void checks after he had cashed them.
Fitzgerald said only Beavers is accused of knowingly doing anything wrong.
Beavers' attorney, Sam Adam Jr. -- who also represented Blagojevich in his first trial and won the acquittal of R&B superstar R. Kelly on child pornography charges -- said the evidence will show that Beavers either repaid all the money to his campaign funds or reported it to the IRS.
Each count against Beavers carries a maximum penalty of three years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
He was released on own recognizance. The judge set a status hearing for April 6.
Beavers, a former Chicago police officer, was elected to the City Council in 1983, where he served more than two decades and chaired the powerful budget and government operations committee and the council's police and fire committee.
He had long been seen as a shrewd politician who learned at the knee of the late John Stroger, the powerful former Cook County Board president. When Stroger suffered a stroke that ultimately proved fatal, Beavers served as a family spokesman. But few believed that's all he was, and soon there were reports that Beavers was engineering a power play on the county board.
In a deal pushed by Beavers and approved by the county's Democratic leaders, Stroger's son, Todd, was chosen to replace his father as board president, while Beavers won the elder Stroger's seat. Beavers' daughter then was appointed by Mayor Richard Daley to Beavers' seat on the city council.