Chris Zorich goes to court

Former Chicago Bears player Chris Zorich arrives at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago. (Nancy Stone, Chicago Tribune / March 14, 2013)

Former Bear Chris Zorich, who pleaded guilty in March to misdemeanor charges for not filing federal income tax returns, is in such dire financial straits that his net worth is "substantially negative," his lawyer said in papers filed in federal court Wednesday.

Zorich also has temporarily halted making monthly payments related to unaccounted funds from his now-defunct charity, the documents state.

The former defensive lineman's net worth is $302,273, but that is eclipsed by the $348,447 he owes under a legal agreement related to the charity plus $90,000 in back taxes and penalties, according to attorney Matt Lydon.

"Chris Zorich's true financial condition is that he faces heavy financial obligations, and he will be struggling to meet them for some time," Lydon wrote.

Zorich, 44, is scheduled to be sentenced July 12 and could face up to 16 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. Lydon said some defendants in similar situations have received probation.

Zorich did not file tax returns from 2006 through 2009, during which time he had a gross income of more than $1 million in deferred compensation from the Bears and other sources. He also received monthly rent payments from the foundation he founded in the early 1990s, according to his plea agreement.

The Tribune reported in 2010 that the Chris Zorich Charitable Foundation was in disarray and that the last tax return it filed on time, in 2002, showed about $864,000 in assets. That prompted a two-year review by the Illinois attorney general's office and eventually led to a consent decree in which he agreed to pay back about $350,000 in unaccounted charitable funds.

A court report's estimation of his net worth did not account for the money owed under the consent decree, for penalties or for other living expenses, such as payments on credit card debt, according to Lydon.

Zorich has denied misusing money, but the decree barred him from taking a leading role in any charity in Illinois.

Zorich, a University of Notre Dame alumnus who grew up on the South Side and spent six seasons in Chicago, won accolades for his charity but continued to solicit and receive contributions after its registration was canceled, according to the decree.

He has paid $58,525 in back taxes, but his cash flow went negative in April and payments to the attorney general's office have been put on hold until December, records show.

In filings, Lydon also submitted a half-dozen letters of support to U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Martin, including one from the Rev. Michael Pfleger, the Chicago priest who has known Zorich for years.

jahopkins@tribune.com

Twitter @jaredshopkins