SPRINGFIELD — Described by the prosecution as a “scourge” on Chicago, ex-Country Clubs Hills Police Chief Regina Evans was sentenced late Thursday to five years in prison for stealing more than $900,000 in state grant money.
Opting against the 10-year, one-month sentence that federal prosecutors sought, U.S. District Judge Sue Myerscough nonetheless told Evans that she “broke the law in magnificent fashion with a magnificent fraud.”
The heart of the government’s fraud case against Evans centered on her misuse of a $1.25 million state work-training grant that was part of her effort to revive the Regal Theater on the South Side. Evans pleaded guilty to wire fraud, money-laundering and conspiracy charges last year.
“That’s what makes your fall from grace so shocking to me, the fact you of all people knew these were crimes,” Myerscough said, alluding to Evans’ background on the south suburban police department and her lengthy time as a homicide detective and narcotics officer with the Chicago Police Department.
After a day of emotional testimony from her daughter, ex-husband, minister and family friends, Evans delivered a tearful 10-minute apology for her crime that drew sobs from many of the roughly two dozen supporters who crowded into the federal courtroom in downtown Springfield.
“I made some bad decisions in my journey to save the Regal Theater,” a gaunt-looking Evans, dressed in a red jumpsuit with her ankles chained, told the judge.
“I made a mistake. I was wrong. But is that enough to take my life away and keep me away from my child and family?” asked Evans, who has a 15-year-old son still at home.
Her 60 months in prison is to be followed by three years of supervised release, with the first year to be served in home detention. The remaining two years of supervised release require her to do 20 hours per week of unpaid community service.
Plus, Evans was ordered to make immediate restitution to the state for more than $917,000 in funds that prosecutors say was spent improperly from a $1.25 million Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity work-training grant tied to her and her husband’s renovation of the Regal Theater.
“To this day and very minute, she has never acknowledged the extent of the carnage she has caused,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Bass said in a blistering argument for a lengthier term.
“She’s not a person of complete, good character,” he continued. “She’s been a financial and personal scourge on the city of Chicago.”
To drive home those points, the prosecution brought forth one witness, who is a quadriplegic music promoter from Milwaukee, to testify how Evans bankrupted him by not sharing at least $262,900 in ticket sale revenue he was owed from a 2008 rap and hip-hop concert he staged at a Dolton venue she owned.
“Ms. Evans ruined my life. That’s all I can say,” Robert Sain, 31, said as he sat in his wheelchair while testifying remotely via video from Milwaukee.
But Evans’ lawyer, Lawrence Beaumont, outlined a far different picture of his client as he made the pitch to Myerscough to impose a 36-month sentence on his client.
Beaumont cited her decorated work as a suburban and city police officer and noted that former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. got a more lenient 30-month prison term for misusing $750,000 in campaign funds and Beanie Babies tycoon Ty Warner avoided prison altogether despite evading almost $5.6 million in taxes.
“She was a chief of police at Country Club Hills for part of this time. She was for 21 years a Chicago police officer,” Beaumont told Myerscough. “But she literally risked her life for the people of the city of Chicago. She’s been shot at on multiple occasions. She’s been attacked on multiple occasions. She’s saved people’s lives on multiple occasions.”
Without naming names, Beaumont lashed out at the prosecution during the hearing, accusing the government of having a “misguided vendetta” against her. He said she “made telephone calls” and wore a wire on behalf of the government in pursuit of other targets, but she didn’t deliver any prized political pelts sought by prosecutors.
“In my humble opinion, part of the prosecution in this case had some kind of vendetta against her because she refused to cooperate or didn’t cooperate the way they felt she should against some political people in Chicago. They seem to want to take that out on her, which in my opinion is inappropriate,” Beaumont said.
During testimony in her two-day sentencing hearing, U.S. Postal Inspector Basil Demczak indicated the government criminal investigation into grant fraud at the Department of Commerce and Opportunity remains ongoing.
Asked later to clarify those remarks, Bass said, “I can only speak for what’s in the record. Again, what’s in the record is what Inspector Demczak testified to, and that is this case arose from an investigation of DCEO’s employment opportunity grant program that was targeted at helping underrepresented persons, underprivileged minority persons in the Chicago-area community.
“The investigation involved not just looking at Ms. Evans as one grantee but the entire program and whether or not other persons, other grantees, or other public officials had engaged in any wrongdoing. Inspector Demczak testified that investigation is ongoing,” Bass said, declining to name any targets.
Much of Thursday’s testimony revolved around a succession of character witnesses Beaumont brought forth to bolster his case for leniency, including Evans’ daughter, minister, ex-husband and a man she took in as a troubled youth.
“I just really miss my mother,” her 31-year-old daughter, Jennifer Joanes tearfully told the court.
Dennis Banahan, a former Chicago police lieutenant to whom Evans was married for seven years in the 1990s, broke down as well when he testified that his ex-wife has “got a heart the size of Alaska but warmer.”
As for the charges she pleaded guilty to, Banahan called them “preposterous” and refused to accept them as fact, suggesting his ex-wife admitted wrongdoing merely because “she’s afraid of going to prison for 20 years.”
And Nicholas Mobley, 35, told Myerscough that Evans took him in and cared for him as a teen when his mother had AIDS. Mobley compared Evans to “a female Martin Luther King.”
Bass pounced on that comparison.
“Dr. King didn’t steal from people, did he?” Bass asked.
“I’m not aware of that,” Mobley answered.
Before she handed down Evans’ sentence, Myerscough seemed to dismiss much of what she was hearing from the former police chief’s supporters, saying much of the testimony didn’t comport with the massive fraud prosecutors had proven and that she had admitted to.
“It’s almost as if there’s a delusion somewhere in this room,” the judge said.