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Former state legislator Annazette Collins expected to take to the floor

Federal prosecutors announced Friday that former state legislator Annazette Collins was fired from her insurance business shortly after leaving the General Assembly for offering bogus insurance policies for unwanted or “non-existent” customers.

The statement came after Collins’ lawyers told the judge that he plans to testify in his own defense in the tax evasion case, which is now in its fourth day at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse.

The jury heard evidence that Collins was fired “for cause” from American Income Life Insurance in 2014, but the exact reason was not disclosed. Collins contractually earned approximately $100,000 from the company by selling life insurance policies; he allegedly never reported this income on his tax returns.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Parthum argued that because his actions were “criminal” in nature and evidence of his credibility, he should be able to question Collins about the termination if he took the witness stand.

Collins’ attorney, Shay Allen, objected, saying it would be extremely harmful for the jury to hear this. But U.S. District Judge Jorge Alonso sided with the government, saying he would allow them to conduct a limited investigation.

Collins is expected to testify Friday afternoon.

Collins, 61, who represented Chicago’s West Side before losing the Democratic primary in 2012, is accused of three counts of filing a false individual income tax return, two counts of failure to file a corporate income tax return and one count of willful failure to file. filing an individual income tax return. The most serious charges carry a prison sentence of up to three years.

While the charges involve Collins’ work as an insurance agent, they focus more on income from Kourtnie Nicole Corp., the lucrative lobbying and consulting firm she founded after leaving the legislature in 2013.

According to prosecutors, Collins grossly underreported income from his lobbying activities on his tax returns between 2014 and 2018; this included an affidavit showing he earned as little as $11,500, according to prosecutors. He also did not file a personal return in 2016 and did not file a corporate tax return for his company in 2015 or 2016, even though the company was making six figures annually, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors allege Collins avoided paying a total of $99,800 in federal taxes over the five-year period in the indictment.

“(Collins) was a former Illinois state senator and representative who was trusted to make the laws of the state of Illinois for years,” Parthum said in his opening statement Tuesday. “But when it came time to obey the law… he chose not to.”

In her opening statement, Collins’ lawyer, Shay Allen, described her client not as a knowledgeable former lawmaker but as a regular wife, mother and colleague who was “a hard-working citizen of this country.”

He said Collins, like most people unaware of tax laws, relied on a pair of accounting professionals to file accurate returns and that any discrepancies or filing failures were at their disposal.

Collins was indicted in 2021 amid a widening investigation into ComEd’s scheme to bribe then-House Speaker Michael Madigan. His name has surfaced in a number of recent corruption cases, including the “ComEd Four” case, in which he emerged last year on a so-called magic list of Madigan-approved lobbyists found during a raid on Madigan’s longtime confidant Michael McClain.

A number of prosecution witnesses testified Wednesday about Collins’ income as a lobbyist and consultant from 2014 to 2018; That includes more than $200,000 in revenue from ComEd alone.

They were also paid thousands of dollars as contract lobbyists in 2014 and 2016 by consulting firms run by staunch Madigan allies: Cullen Inc., run by Thomas Cullen, a former top Madigan staffer and longtime political strategist; and the Roosevelt Group, headed by Democratic political operative Victor Reyes, according to Wednesday’s testimony.

Prosecutors on Thursday presented consulting contracts showing AT&T paid Collins nearly $100,000 from 2015 to 2018. Those contracts were signed by then-AT&T Illinois President Paul La Schiazza, who is separately accused of trying to corruptly influence Madigan by hiring another former state representative, Eddie Acevedo. , as a consultant.

Testimony also showed that Collins was paid $11,000 by Rekooh Management for consulting services. Although the owner of that firm was not brought up, the Tribune previously reported that it was former ComEd executive John Hooker, who was convicted in the “ComEd Four” case for his scheme to bribe Madigan.

Also Thursday, IRS Special Agent Christopher Suba said Collins’ company used funds to pay for personal expenses, including flights to Punta Cana, Mexico, gym fees at LA Fitness, private school tuition and payments for his daughter to go to camp at Sea World San Francisco. He testified that he used it for Diego.

During cross-examination, Allen asked Suba if the investigation was a bit overblown. “You subpoenaed Sea World!? I saw Sea World go in here! said. “I’m surprised you didn’t issue a subpoena to show you bought lettuce at Walmart!”

Collins was a longtime state representative before being appointed to fill the vacancy left by the sudden resignation of State Senator Rickey Hendon in 2011.

Records show Collins signed up with ComEd as a contract lobbyist in 2014, a year after leaving office. The last year he signed up for civil service was in 2019, when news of the federal bribery investigation began to surface.

jmeisner@chicagotribune.com

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