A powerful Chicago politician fond of playing slot machines spent thousands of dollars from his campaign coffers at a casino and then falsely declared he'd spent it on authorized campaign expenses, a prosecutor told newly seated jurors Thursday.
The accusations came during the sometimes dramatic openings at William Beavers' trial, where a defense attorney fired back later that the 78-year-old Cook County commissioner viewed the money as loans and eventually paid most of it back.
"He didn't violate anything -- except being the best darn commissioner he could be," Beavers' lawyer, Sam Adam Jr., told jurors as he paced the floor, pointing and shouting.
The trial is focused on dry tax and accounting issues but has drawn a spotlight because of Beavers' you-can't-touch-me persona. The Democrat likened a then-chief prosecutor in his tax case to a Nazi and bragged about telling investigators to kiss his posterior.
Beavers is best known for years earlier offering a favorable estimation of his influence by calling himself "a hog with big nuts."
Standing by boxes full of banking documents and clicking on a remote, prosecutor Sam Cole displayed three separate, $2,000 checks on a courtroom screen that Beavers wrote to himself withdrawing $6,000 from his campaign fund on April 9, 2007.
On that day, Beavers was at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Ind., using the cash to feed his gambling habit, Cole told jurors. But on an election board form later, Beavers declared the $6,000 went toward campaign expenses.
"Ladies and gentlemen, that's a lie," Cole said. "It was taken out for gambling money."
He said Beavers especially enjoyed playing slot machines.
Beavers, dressed in a dark suit with a yellow tie and matching pocket square, sat at the defense table listening through headphones linked to a courtroom sound system.
Beavers claims authorities charged him in retaliation for his refusal in April 2009 to wear a wire against Commissioner John Daley, brother of former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.
Indicted in 2010, Beavers has pleaded not guilty to four tax counts. If convicted, the former Chicago policeman and one-time alderman faces a maximum three-year prison term on each count.
In his Thursday opening, Cole said Beavers was a seasoned politician who knew full well that the money in question -- since it was spent for personal use -- should have been declared as income on his returns from 2006 through 2008.
"He knows the rules," Cole said.
To demonstrate that point, Cole displayed a letter Beavers included with his 2005 tax return in which he mentions $43,000 taken from his campaign and acknowledges it is rightly regarded as income.
Prosecutors accused Beavers of writing about 100 checks worth around $225,000 from various campaign funds for personal use -- without reporting most of it.
"He didn't come close to putting as much money in as he took out," Cole said, alluding to defense claims that Beavers considered the money loans.
In the defense's opening, Adam portrayed Beavers as a devoted civil servant who had heeded his steelworker-father's admonition that, "If you borrow money, you pay it back."
Adam said Beavers had paid back or properly declared expenses on 86.6 percent of the roughly $225,000 in campaign money at issue.
"You would be Visa's No. 1 client if you paid back 86.6 percent," Adam shouted a few feet from the jury box. "No. 1!"
The attorney went on to portray the money as loans, saying Beavers "never did anything intentionally wrong."
Beavers only began repayments in May 2009, after realizing he was being investigated. Tax evasion, prosecutors say, is still a crime even if someone belatedly pays money due and amends returns.
Beavers also is accused of failing to declare nearly $69,000 in campaign money he put into a city fund as a way to double the pension he got for his years as an alderman -- from $2,900 to $6,500, Cole told jurors.
Judge James Zagel ruled the defense couldn't mention Beavers' claim that authorities charged him because he refused to wear a wire -- though Adam clearly alluded to it, telling jurors they would soon know why authorities pursued Beavers.
"At the end of this case, you'll know why you're sittin' there and why he's sittin' there," Adam said, pointing at the jury box and then at Beavers across the room.
The trial is to resume Friday with prosecutors presenting more evidence. Beavers has said repeatedly that he will take the stand in his own defense.