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Updated Nov. 29, 2012 - 5:30 p.m.
State Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-8th) was indicted early Thursday afternoon by federal authorities on bank fraud charges. But by the time the sun started to set, Ford was strongly defending himself in an interview with Austin Weekly News.
He vehemently denied the charges and insisted he had committed no bank fraud in the years before he was elected to office and while he was actively buying and rehabbing homes on the West Side.
"An indictment is an accusation and a theory of what those people believed happened as far as the life I live," Ford said, adding that he plans to continue to serve as state representative while he fights the charges.
In a 17 count indictment released Thursday by the Chicago office of the U.S. Attorney, Ford was charged with bank fraud against the now defunct ShoreBank. Ford said every property that ShoreBank approved money for was completely rehabbed. Two of those properties were set to be sold but those deals fell apart when the housing market tanked, he said.
"There was no property that was left undone," said Ford, who founded his real estate company, Ford Desired Real Estate, in Austin in 2001. A former teacher, Ford ran twice for state representative before winning in 2006.
Ford was charged with fraudulently obtaining a $500,000 increase and a two-year extension on a line of credit from ShoreBank diverting the funds toward car loans, credit cards, other mortgages owed the same bank, payments to a casino in Hammond and his 2006 campaign for Illinois state representative.
He was first elected state representative in 2006 for the 8th District which includes areas in both the city of Chicago and the suburbs, including much of the Austin neighborhood of Chicago and south Oak Park, including all of Oak Park south of the Eisenhower Expressway.
Ford, 40, was indicted by a federal grand jury on Thursday and charged with eight counts of bank fraud and nine counts of submitting false information to ShoreBank. That Chicago bank failed in 2010 and currently operates as Urban Partnership Bank.
Each of the 17 counts carries a $1 million fine, a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison, and mandatory restitution, according to a press release issued Thursday by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago.
Ford allegedly had multiple loans with ShoreBank, including a $1 million line of credit, which was meant to be used solely to purchase and rehab investment properties, according to the indictment.
Federal authorities allege he obtained a $500,000 increase on the original line in May 2006 plus a two-year extension by submitting false tax return documents that inflated his personal and business income.
In addition to potential prison time, the indictment seeks forfeiture of approximately $832,000.
Speaking by phone to Austin Weekly News shortly after the news of the indictment broke, Ford responded nearly point-by-point to the lengthy indictment.
As for the charge that he needed the money to support a lavish lifestyle, Ford insisted that he has been successful in real estate through legitimate means and didn't need to commit any crimes.
"This is a case of the feds not knowing how real estate is done in the community," Ford said. "I respect their job, but I also have a job to do and that's to defend myself."
Since his 2006 win, Ford has been something of a rising star on the local political scene. He's also had the reputation of being squeaky clean when it came to scandal. Ford noted that himself.
"Since 2007, when I was first elected, there has been nothing that anyone can point to that's been crooked, but they have to go back to 2006 and say I committed bank fraud?"
Ford now joins a lengthy list of indicted Chicago politicians, including former Austin Ald. Isaac Carothers, who resigned from office in 2010 after pleading guilty to federal corruption charges. Ford in 2006 defeated incumbent state Rep. Calvin Giles, whose uncle, former Austin Ald. Percy Giles, was indicted in 1999 on corruption charges.
Ford said he looks forward to fighting the charges against him but knows he's up against a formidable foe.
"That's what people say, the feds indict people they believe they can beat," Ford said. "That's why a lot of people plead guilty, because they know they're tough to beat. But that's why we have a justice system that looks at the truth."
Ford says he will meet with any interested constituents at his district office, 5104 W. Chicago Ave., Thursday and Friday evening at 5 p.m. to discuss this case.
Media are not allowed at these sessions, according to a release late Thursday from his office.