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Patrick Daley Thompson accountant says he found note that could undermine alderman’s defense

The revelation came at a hearing Monday as Thompson is scheduled to go to trial Feb. 4. But the judge raised concerns about moving forward amid the COVID surge.

Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) attends a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Wednesday morning, June 23, 2021.
Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) attends a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Wednesday morning, June 23, 2021.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

A key witness in the federal tax case against Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) testified Monday about a note that could undermine Thompson’s defense — and he said he just found it Sunday afternoon.

Robert Hannigan, managing partner of the Bansley & Kiener accounting firm, said during a hearing he discovered a handwritten note that documented a conversation he had with Thompson on Dec. 7, 2018, four days after the feds say agents approached Thompson with questions about his loan from the failed Washington Federal Bank for Savings in Bridgeport.

That’s significant because Thompson would go on to file amended tax returns in April 2019. And there is an ongoing dispute as to whether he first talked to Hannigan, his accountant, about filing the amendment before or after he was interviewed by agents Dec. 3, 2018.

Hannigan’s revelation came during an evidentiary hearing held Monday to help U.S. District Judge Franklin Valderrama sort out a legal question: whether a ruling in the decade-old case against ex-Cook County Commissioner William Beavers should apply to Thompson.

Thompson is set to go to trial Feb. 4 for filing false tax returns and lying to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. However, Valderrama asked lawyers at the end of Monday’s hearing for their thoughts on moving forward amid the latest coronavirus surge. That raised at least the possibility of another delay in Thompson’s case.

Valderrama said he might have more to say about that — and would rule on Monday’s question — during a pretrial conference set for Friday.

Beavers was convicted on tax charges but argued that U.S. District Judge James Zagel shouldn’t have excluded evidence at trial about his filing of amended tax returns after he’d been approached by federal agents. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals eventually sided with Zagel. Now, Valderrama faces a similar scenario with Thompson’s case.

In a brief filed in October, defense attorney Chris Gair wrote that Hannigan would testify that Thompson decided to file amended tax returns amid a discussion about mortgage interest deductions “in late November or early December 2018.”

Hannigan insisted Monday that he first spoke to Thompson about amending the tax returns on Dec. 7, 2018. To bolster his claim, he pointed to a handwritten note purporting to document the conversation. Under questioning by Gair, he said he found it Sunday afternoon, hours before his testimony.

“This is the first I’m hearing of this,” Gair told the judge when Hannigan first mentioned the note.

“I have not seen those notes before either,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Petersen said.

Gair also has argued that agents only told Thompson they were investigating Washington Federal, and “Thompson was not informed by the agents on December 3 that he was being investigated for anything.”

In addition to Thompson, 14 others so far face criminal charges related to what authorities have referred to as massive fraud at the failed Bridgeport bank.

Thompson’s would be the most high-profile trial at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in March 2020. But several hearings have been rescheduled or turned remote in recent weeks, most notably the sentencing of former Ald. Ricardo Muñoz (22nd).

State Sen. Thomas Cullerton, who was originally set to go to trial in July 2020, is also scheduled for trial in February. U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman on Monday called a Wednesday status hearing in that case, though.

Gair has pushed hard to get Thompson to trial since Thompson’s indictment in April 2021. But he also raised the question Monday about whether “there could be resentment” from jurors who are asked to serve “during these trying times.”