Ex-lawmaker convicted of cheating on taxes, in a case tied to corruption probe that led to Madigan

Former Illinois Sen. Annazette Collins was convicted in federal court Monday of cheating on her taxes, in a case tied to the larger corruption investigation that led to the indictment of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Jurors, deliberating for eight hours over two days, found her guilty on four of six counts. Collins was convicted of filling false individual tax returns for the years 2014 and 2015, failing to file one for the year 2016 and failing to file a corporate tax return for 2016, ultimately dodging about $86,000 in taxes.

Collins’ attorney, Shay Allen, told reporters he disagreed with the verdict, and he claimed Collins’ prosecution was politically motivated. “They clearly scoured her entire life, and this is what they were able to pull out,” Allen said.

Collins’ sentencing is set for June 21. The case revolved not around Collins’ years in the Legislature, but the career she pursued after leaving office and her lobbying firm, Kourtnie Nicole Corp.

The verdict followed a dramatic day last week in what had otherwise been a dry, run-of-the-mill tax trial. With prosecutors nearing the end of their case Friday, Collins signaled she would testify in her own defense.

That triggered a key disclosure by the feds about Collins’ work selling insurance after leaving the General Assembly: Collins was allegedly caught submitting bogus insurance policies for people who did not apply for them or “did not exist.”

The policies were tied to bank accounts that were controlled either by Collins or her daughter, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Parthum told US. District Judge Jorge Alonso.

Prosecutors had previously disclosed that Collins was fired from her job at American Income Life, not the reason behind it. Still, they warned ahead of trial that the reason might come out if she decided to take the stand, because it spoke to her truthfulness.

Alonso ruled the jury could hear about what happened despite objections from Collins’ attorney. So Collins changed her mind — ultimately choosing not to testify.

The back-and-forth meant the allegation against Collins became public even though she never took the stand. But it also never came up in front of the jury, including once attorneys launched into closing arguments.

“Annazette Collins served at the highest levels of state government for more than a decade,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu said Friday, repeatedly pointing and looking toward Collins. “She proposed complicated tax laws that would apply throughout the state of Illinois. … But for all of her sophistication and success, ladies and gentlemen, it didn’t stop her from being consumed by greed.”

Jurors heard last week about hefty sums Collins collected from politically connected firms and utilities. They included ComEd and AT&T Illinois, both of which were also caught up in the Madigan investigation and have faced criminal charges.

The jury heard that ComEd paid Collins’ firm $207,000, and AT&T Illinois paid it $95,343. A firm tied to former ComEd lobbyist John Hooker — among four political insiders convicted last year of scheming to bribe Madigan — paid Collins’ firm $11,000. And the Roosevelt Group lobbying firm tied to Victor Reyes — who figured prominently in Hooker’s trial — paid $2,500.

Meanwhile, jurors in Collins’ trial also heard that she used money from her lobbying firm to make car, tuition and mortgage payments, and to fund a 2015 trip to Punta Cana, all while filing income tax returns that made it seem she earned paltry sums of as little as $11,000 a year after leaving public office.

Collins’ attorney insisted throughout the trial that prosecutors wouldn’t be able to prove that Collins willfully cheated on her taxes. During his closing argument Friday, Allen mocked Collins’ tax preparers and the idea that people even pay attention to their tax returns.

He also compared the feds and their evidence to an Italian restaurant that brings out “large amounts of food.”

“It’s because they’re trying to disguise the fact that the food isn’t good,” Allen said.

But Parthum countered that Collins’ lawyers couldn’t offer a “coherent story” as to how the wrong numbers wound up on Collins’ tax returns. Rather, she said the common thread was “pass the buck; place blame.”

“What makes more sense, instead of ‘everyone else made mistakes,’ is one person — the defendant — kept telling lies,” Parthum said.

Collins’ name has surfaced in corruption trials dating back years, but it wasn’t until March 2021 that a grand jury finally leveled an indictment against her for dodging her taxes.

Two sets of jurors heard Collins’ name last year. It surfaced during the trial of Hooker and three others convicted of a nearly decade-long conspiracy to bribe Madigan to benefit ComEd. Jurors in that trial also saw a handwritten list of favored lobbyists that included the name “Annazette.”

The list appeared on stationary from the Talbott Hotel and was purportedly dubbed the “magic list” by Madigan confidant Michael McClain, who was among those convicted with Hooker.

Then, jurors in the separate trial of businessman James Weiss heard that Collins also worked as a lobbyist for Weiss’ company, Collage LLC. Weiss was convicted of bribing then-state Rep. Luis Arroyo and then-state Sen. Terry Link, and he is now serving a 66-month prison sentence.

Collins’ name also came up during the 2017 trial of a woman convicted of fraud for spending state grant funds on personal expenses and campaign contributions, including a $100 contribution to Collins.

Contributing: Sophie Sherry

Read More: Ex-lawmaker convicted of cheating on taxes, in a case tied to corruption probe that led to Madigan

2024-02-12 23:38:00

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