Ex-Bear Chris Zorich gets 3 years probation in tax case

Ex-Bear Chris Zorich gets 3 years probation in tax case

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CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire) -

Former Chicago Bears star Chris Zorich dodged a potential prison term Friday when a federal judge sentenced him instead to 36 months of probation for failing to file his federal income taxes.

The 44-year-old former defensive tackle -- who was an All-American and national champion in his college days at Notre Dame -- had pleaded guilty in March to failing to file taxes on income of $1 million between 2006 and 2009, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

He faced the possibility of as much as 16 months in prison for the misdemeanor, but his lawyers successfully argued that U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Martin should give him probation. They said Zorich has agreed to pay back the $71,000 he owes the IRS, that he is broke and that "his good works and helping nature are well-known and have been lifelong."

Even during his professional playing career with the Bears from 1991 to 1996 and the Washington Redskins in 1997, Zorich was known for his charity work.

But it was problems with his charity, The Chris Zorich Foundation, that lead to his disgrace after his life began to unravel in 2002.

After he went through a divorce and failed the bar exam, his cousin, Barbara Singer, who had managed Zorich's foundation, died after a long bout with cervical cancer.

The charity -- which helped the needy, providing turkeys to the poor at Thanksgiving, awarding Notre Dame scholarships and delivering flowers and gifts to mothers living in homeless shelters on Mother's Day -- failed to submit an annual report that year, and the state canceled the foundation's registration two years later.

Even so, the foundation continued to receive donations, But Zorich failed to report income he took from it, as well as money he got from the Bears, the University of Notre Dame -- where he worked in the athletic department from 2008 to 2010 -- and from a Chicago law firm.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger -- who has Zorich working for his church's school, St. Sabina Academy on the South Side, as athletic director -- was among those who urged the judge to give the former football star a lenient sentence, saying in a letter that Zorich had "a heart of gold."

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