CHICAGO (CBS) — A federal judge has barred Cook County Commissioner William Beavers from telling jurors at his tax evasion trial that he repaid campaign funds he borrowed after he learned of a federal investigation, unless Beavers takes the stand.
WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports U.S. District Judge James Zagel said Beavers can only tell the jury about repaying campaign funds he used for personal expenses if he testifies about his state of mind.
Beavers is accused of borrowing more than $225,000 from his campaign funds to use on personal expenses, and failing to report the money as income. He also allegedly used his campaign workers to prepare false campaign finance reports to falsify records about those checks, and disguise them as legitimate campaign expenditures.
Defense attorneys have claimed, because he filed amended tax returns and repaid the money he borrowed, Beavers did not commit a crime, only made an honest mistake.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody Reports
“William Beavers is a good man, he’s an innocent man. He’s not a paper man, in the sense that he may have made some mistakes in some of these filings, but he certainly did not have any intent to commit any crimes, or evade taxes, or do anything wrong,” Sorosky said after Friday’s hearing.
But prosecutors have argued Beavers only repaid the money after he was confronted by federal agents, and that his repayment of the money later is irrelevant to the alleged crime of failing to pay income taxes on the money he borrowed.
Zagel also limited how much prosecutors could tell the jury about Beavers’ gambling. The prosecution said it wanted to show Beavers twice withdrew campaign funds while visiting the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Ind.
Prosecutors argued Beavers’ gambling habits are an essential part of their case, but defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky said prosecutors would be “bouncing off the ceiling” if he asked to show evidence Beavers used the campaign funds he borrowed to help sick children.
Sorosky said the upcoming trial is strictly a tax evasion case.
Zagel said the defense’s argument had some merit. He ruled the prosecution could show Beavers used campaign funds for gambling, but not much more. He also told them to watch the “tone” of their presentation.
He told prosecutors “you can make your point without throwing bricks without beating him over the head as if he was doing something unsavory or immoral.”
Also during the pretrial hearing, Zagel and the attorneys for both sides hashed out what questions jurors could be asked. Zagel agreed with prosecutors that jurors could be asked what neighborhood they’re from, and whether they’re employed by any governmental agency or law enforcement department. The judge also said he might ask jurors if they’ve ever been in a police station.
Beavers is a former police officer.
Jury selection for Beavers’ trial was scheduled to begin Monday at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. Opening statements were expected to start on Tuesday.