Cook County Commissioner William Beavers pleaded not guilty to federal tax charges Friday and then lobbed another bombshell – declaring U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald “a wild man” guilty of driving three political figures to suicide with “Gestapo-type tactics.”
After a relatively mundane arraignment hearing – lasting all of about 10 minutes – Beavers left the courtroom and walked in a crowd of reporters in the lobby of the Dirksen Federal building – unleashing on Fitzgerald.
“I do not owe the government any money – no taxes,” Beavers said, moving on to his next point: Fitzgerald.
“Let me tell you about this federal prosecutor. This man is like a wild man on a train, and somebody needs to stop him.
“He has caused three deaths – Michael Scott, Orlando Jones and Chris Kelly – with these Gestapo-type tactics that he used to try to make them tell on their friends,” said Beavers, 77.
Scott, 60, then the Chicago School Board president, shot himself along the Chicago River in late 2009. He had been subpoenaed as part of a federal grand jury investigation into how students were chosen for the system’s selective-enrollment high schools.
Two months earlier, Kelly, 51, an ally of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, committed suicide by ingesting pills a week before he was to begin serving a federal prison term. Under pressure to cooperate with the feds, Kelly had been charged three times in separate cases over two years.
And in September 2007, Orlando Jones, 52, godson of the late Cook County Board President John Stroger, shot himself on a Michigan beach. He had recently had been approached for an interview by FBI agents about a case in Las Vegas.
“He’s on the short list for the FBI [director] – that would be the worst thing that could happen,” Beavers said of Fitzgerald. “He would be worse than J. Edgar Hoover.”
The old-school politician – a one-time Chicago Police officer and former South Side alderman – was indicted Feb. 23 on charges he failed to pay taxes on more than $226,000 he took from his campaign funds and his county expense account to go gambling and to boost his city pension.
On Friday, Beavers and his attorneys quickly stomped on the charges, telling reporters Beavers has canceled checks, tax forms and amended tax forms and other paperwork showing the money served as loans that have been repaid or income on which he paid taxes.
That includes repaying the nearly $69,000 loan he took from his campaign coffers, which authorities say he plunked in the Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago, driving his aldermanic monthly pension from $2,890 to $6,541, they said.
“I’m telling you the evidence in this case, when it bears out, is that not only did he take it legally, but he either paid it back like he was supposed to or paid the taxes on it,” Sam Adam Jr., one of Beavers’ lawyers, told reporters after the hearing.
Beavers reiterated claims that the federal case was launched in retaliation for his refusing an FBI request to “wear a wire on John Daley,” a fellow commissioner and brother of former Mayor Richard M. Daley and former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley.
Beavers said last week he doesn’t know why FBI agents, whom he says visited his South Side apartment building in 2009, wanted him to record conversations with Daley. But he and his attorneys trotted out an April 24, 2009, letter from the U.S. Attorney’s office. Victor P. Henderson, one of Beavers’ attorneys, said the letter is “proof” that Beavers is telling the truth about the FBI visit.
The letter states in part: “I understand from special agents . . . that you expressed some hesitation about speaking with the FBI without an attorney.” The letter also alerts Beavers that the federal prosecutor “is investigating charges that you were involved in tax fraud by failing to report as income certain quantities of money you took from campaign funds and converted to your personal use.”
The letter urges Beavers or an attorney to contact Fitzgerald’s office by May 1. “If I do not hear from you by then,” the letter states, “I will begin the process of filing criminal charges against you.”
The typed letter ends with “Very truly yours, Patrick J. Fitzgerald.”
Henderson said: “What the letter establishes is that there were FBI agents out to see the commissioner in 2009, and FBI agents don’t go to see people about taxes – so the letter buttresses what the commissioner said earlier this week, that the FBI was out there and asked him to roll on Commissioner Daley.”
John Daley has said he doesn’t know why Beavers would say such a thing and doesn’t believe he’s under investigation. In fact, Daley suggested that Beavers was trying to divert attention from his legal woes.
A spokesman for Fitzgerald declined to comment on Beavers’ remarks Friday, and neither Fitzgerald nor the FBI would comment on Beavers’ claims about the FBI visit and that agents asked him to wear a wire.
Asked whether it’s wise to blast the prosecutor, who has had a successful run of putting politicians behind bars – most recently Blagojevich – Beavers said: “Those who don’t talk go to the penitentiary – so I’m going to talk.”
Standing behind Beavers and his attorneys was ex-gang leader-turned-community activist Wallace “Gator.” Bradley who called out a quick “My man.”
Beavers’ legal counsel had no problem with him blasting the prosecutor, saying Beavers is behaving like an innocent man.
“The truth is like a burning torch, the more you shake it, the brighter that flame gets – and he is out here telling the truth, and he will be vindicated,” the always theatrical Sam Adam Jr. said. “What does somebody who’s falsely accused feel when they’re falsely accused? Angry. And that’s why he was here telling you what he [did] – because he’s falsely accused, and he will be vindicated.”
Adam threw water on the idea of a possible plea agreement.
“I’m never going to plea a man that’s innocent of those charges. I’m never going to plea a man that’s been a commissioner and been an alderman in this county and in this state and a police officer protecting babies out here in the streets, protecting the individuals out here and trying to do everything he can for the city of Chicago,” Adam Jr. said. “Never will happen.”
The next court hearing is April 6, but Beavers’ attorneys asked that he be excused.