Chris Zorich could face prison, fines

Chris Zorich, ex-Chicago Bears and Notre Dame defensive tackle, is introduced as a 2007 inductee to the College Football Hall of Fame at a news conference in New York, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2007. (AP Photo/Jeff Zelevansky)

March 8, 2013 5:36:59 AM PST
Former Chicago Bear Chris Zorich will be arraigned next Thursday on charges of failing to file federal income tax returns.

He could face a year in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

Zorich is one of a number of Chicago athletes with his own charitable foundations, his one of the most successful and highest profile.

Nevertheless, authorities said Zorich is expected to plead guilty to a number of misdemeanor charges when he appears in court next week.

During his playing days he was almost better known for his charity work than for his accomplishments on the field.

Chris Zorich seemed very involved in the work his foundation did. And his celebrity as a member of the Bears and a Notre Dame alum attracted sponsors.

Once his football career ended however, the charity took on a lower profile, to the point where federal authorities allege he failed to file income taxes from 2006 through 2009 on more than a million dollars income.

"It's very hard to do when an athlete stops playing and he wasn't one of the superstars that had the massive contracts, so he didn't really have that to fall back on either," Marc Ganis, Sportscorp.

Zorich is one of dozens of high profile Chicago athletes with charity foundations over the years.

At the height of his popularity, Sammy Sosa had a foundation that came under fire because it was run by a number of his relatives who were on the payroll. Current Bears defensive end Israel Idonije says he admires the work Zorich's foundation did.

Idonije's own foundation is focused on helping kids in Chicago, Canada, where he grew up, and West Africa, where he was born. He is very involved in the operation.

"Through that involvement being there, you really walk away feeling changed,"Idonije said. "You feel impacted by what you're doing."

"He's very hands on and not just in the office," said Kendra Fogarty, executive director. "That means truly out living the mission of the foundation."

Idonije says he was raised with the importance of charity work ingrained from his family.

Sports marketing experts say athletes are in a unique position to attract support for charitable causes and some, like former Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood, continue their foundations successfully even after they retire. But that requires commitment and planning.

"There are athletes who have maybe gone into it with all the best of intentions, but have not actually ended up that way," Ganis said.

Several attempts to contact Zorich were unsuccessful.