By Teresa Ambord
No excuses for former Chicago Bear Christopher Zorich. He simply told the judge in March that he didn't file his taxes for 2006 to 2009 "in a timely fashion." He pled guilty on four misdemeanor counts of not filing federal income tax on more than $1 million. That included income from a charity he founded – the Chris Zorich Foundation – which assists disadvantaged families in the Chicago area and provides scholarships to students to attend Notre Dame. Now he awaits sentencing in July.
At least, unlike a lot of athletes who end up in tax trouble, Zorich seemed to know better than to play the victim. He should know better because he's also an attorney. A graduate of Notre Dame Law School, he played football while there, including on the 1988 team that won a national championship. From 1991 to 1996, he played for the Chicago Bears, and in 1997, he played for the Washington Redskins before his career came to an end. Later, from 2002 to 2006, he worked part time as an attorney, and then for the University of Notre Dame from 2008 to 2010.
In 2006 to 2009, Zorich earned roughly $1,048,000.That included W-2 income from the Bears (deferred compensation), plus endorsements and personal appearance fees, as well as income from other sources. He also received $3,000 per-month rental income from his foundation.
As the director of the Chris Zorich Foundation, he was responsible for the annual filing of Form 990, Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax, on behalf of the charity. However, for tax years 2006 to 2009, he didn't. Had he filed those returns, the rental income he was paid by the charity would have been reported. Those are the same years for which he failed to file personal income tax returns.
When Zorich appeared in federal court in Chicago in early March to answer the charges, US Magistrate Judge Daniel Martin asked: "And you knew it was wrong to do that?" (That is, to not file tax returns.)
Zorich answered simply, "Yes, your honor."
When the magistrate then asked the defendant to enter a plea on all four counts, Zorich replied, "Guilty, your honor."
As part of a plea agreement, Zorich must pay $71,000 in back taxes. Each of the four counts carries a $100,000 fine and a maximum sentence of a year in prison, although his attorney is seeking probation in lieu of prison.
In addition, last year Zorich signed a consent decree with the Illinois attorney general to repay nearly $350,000 to the foundation he headed. The decree states that he's barred from taking a leading role in the operation of that or any charity in Illinois.