As the son of a longtime state lawmaker, Alex Acevedo was sophisticated enough to know that he had to report money he made from his brother’s lobbying business on his tax returns, but failed to do so out of greed, federal prosecutors told a jury Thursday.
“It was intentional all the way along,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Chapman said during his opening statement in Acevedo’s tax-evasion trial, which has ties to the massive ComEd bribery probe involving ex-House Speaker Michael Madigan. “He knew he was getting the money, and he was spending the money.”
Acevedo’s lawyer, however, said the case was really just about a “common man” who was doing his best under the circumstances, not politics or greed or his father, ex-state Rep. Edward Acevedo.
“This case has nothing to do with his dad,” attorney Ricardo Meza told jurors in his opening remarks. “This is about the common man who sometimes makes mistakes.”
Acevedo, 37, a registered nurse who previously made failed election bids for Chicago alderman and to replace his father in the state legislature, is facing two counts of willfully filing false tax returns that underreported his income by about $70,000 in 2016 and 2018, resulting in a total tax loss of about $20,000.
All of the money came from Apex Strategy LLC, a lobbying and consulting firm formed by his brother, Michael, in 2015, according to prosecutors.
The trial, which began in U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang’s courtroom Thursday afternoon, is expected to last about five days.
Though relatively minor in scope, the indictment against Acevedo, along with separate charges filed against his brother and their father, received widespread attention due to the connection to the ComEd probe.
Meza later alleged in court filings that it was clear investigators were after Madigan. During a proffer meeting between Alex Acevedo and prosecutors in February 2020, at least 75% of the questions asked by the government “pertained to Mr. Madigan and his associates,” Meza wrote.
“However, when (Alex) Acevedo’s truthful responses did not seem to align with what the government sought to hear, the IRS agent pivoted and began asking Mr. Acevedo questions about his 2016 and 2018 tax returns,” Meza wrote in the motion.
According to prosecutors, Alex Acevedo did most of the work on several of Apex Strategy’s contracts, including one with the Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois trade association. But all of Acevedo’s income was off-the-books, with no W-2 form issued and no other paperwork reporting it to the IRS.
“Apex was a virtual black box,” Chapman said.
But Meza said Acevedo was simply waiting for the paperwork from his brother and was under pressure to file his returns on time and made a mistake.
He likened his “error” to the famous flub by Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner, who had a ground ball go through his legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, which was ultimately won by the New York Mets.
“We all make errors. Alex makes errors,” Meza said.
Edward Acevedo, 59, pleaded guilty to skirting about $37,000 in taxes by misreporting lobbying income he’d received over three years. He was sentenced in March 2022 to six months in prison and was released in December, records show.
Michael Acevedo, 36, pleaded guilty in last month to failing to file tax returns documenting five years of revenues for the lobbying company he founded, Apex Strategies LLC. He’s scheduled to be sentenced on March 15.
ComEd agreed in 2020 to pay a record $200 million fine as prosecutors unveiled a criminal complaint charging the company with a yearslong bribery scheme involving jobs, contracts and payments to Madigan allies. Under the terms of a deferred prosecution agreement with the government, the charges against the utility giant will be dropped next year if the company continues to cooperate.
In November 2020, Madigan’s longtime confidant Michael McClain and three others were charged. They’re scheduled to go on trial March 6.
Meanwhile, last year AT&T Illinois and the phone giant’s former president, Paul La Schiazza, were charged in a similar scheme to funnel payments to Edward Acevedo in exchange for the speaker’s help passing legislation important to the company.
La Schiazza, 65, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, federal program bribery, and using a facility in interstate commerce to promote unlawful activity.
AT&T Illinois has entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office, admitting its role in the scheme and agreeing to pay $23 million and cooperate in the investigation. In exchange, prosecutors will drop criminal charges filed against the company in two years.
Madigan and McClain were both charged in a separate indictment in March 2022 with racketeering conspiracy alleging they participated in a range of corrupt schemes, including the ComEd and AT&T Illinois bribery.
The scandal helped end Madigan’s reign as the nation’s longest-serving speaker in January 2021. Madigan later resigned from the Illinois House and as Illinois Democratic Party chairman.