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State Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-8th), who was indicted last week by federal authorities on bank fraud charges, is scheduled to be arraigned next Tuesday at the Everett Dirksen courthouse in downtown Chicago.
The charges are connected to an alleged, fraudulently-obtained $500,000 increase, as well as a two-year extension, on a line of credit from the now-defunct ShoreBank, which allegedly took place in 2006 while Ford was running for state rep. ShoreBank was shut down by federal regulators in 2010 and its assets transferred to Urban Partnership Bank.
Ford, 40, maintains his innocence and insists he has committed no bank fraud, saying the money obtained from the bank was spent on rehabbing distressed properties on the West Side, including in neighboring Austin. He adds that the charges are in no way connected to his work as a legislator. After the indictment was handed down on Nov. 29, his supporters have been speaking out, pointing out that very fact.
Among his supporters are constituents of his 8th legislative district, which includes south Oak Park, parts of the West Side, including Austin, as well as areas in the western suburbs.
Many of Ford's supporters have taken to social media to champion the good work they say he has done on behalf of the community. An event page on Facebook urges supporters to attend the 9:30 a.m., Dec. 11 arraignment at Dirksen, 219 S. Dearborn.
On Ford's Facebook page, West Side community organizer Valerie Leonard wrote that Ford is a "champion of democracy in education." She also noted Ford's push for legislation to create a task force to study better governance of Chicago public schools.
Dr. Andre Hines, CEO of Circle Family Healthcare Network in Austin, described the extent to which Ford has gone to help the medical center. She said Ford has routinely advocated for the center, especially when the state's Department of Health and Human Services has been slow in releasing funds to her agency.
"We have not been able to get our dollars released until he goes to bat for us, and this is every few months," Hines said. "We are one of the smallest health centers. The larger ones have advocates down in Springfield who get paid to work on their behalf to release their dollars. I don't have anybody. The only thing I have is LaShawn Ford."
Ford, she adds, also advocated for her agency when state budget cuts threatened to shutter the medical center's violence prevention initiative this year. Hines expressed dismay that Ford is the only one of "the powers that be" who has been targeted as a result of ShoreBank's failure.
"He is truly a servant, and I just feel like this is a witch hunt," she said. "I've never seen anything but integrity in LaShawn Ford, and I never in my life stood up for anybody who's accused of anything. It is just not my nature, but ... I support him because I know, in the end, all of this will be resolved."
'Squeaky clean' image takes a hit
The indictment, issued on Nov. 29, also charges that Ford obtained multiple advances by allegedly making false statements about his intent in using the bank funds. Ford has vehemently denied the charges, insisting that he will not resign and will fight the charges.
The 17-count indictment was released last Thursday by the Chicago office of the U.S. Attorney. The charges include diverting the bank's funds toward his personal use; for car loans, credit cards, other mortgages owed ShoreBank, payments to a casino in Hammond, and his 2006 campaign for state rep.
Speaking to local media after the charges were announced last Thursday, Ford insisted every property 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 Chicago public schoolteacher, Ford ran twice for state representative before winning in 2006.
He was indicted by a federal grand jury on Nov. 29, charged with eight counts of bank fraud and nine counts of submitting false information to ShoreBank. 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 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 of credit 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.
Shortly after the news of the indictment broke, Ford responded nearly point-by-point to the lengthy indictment with Austin Weekly News. 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.
Ford launched his third try for state rep in late 2005, winning the Democratic Primary in March 2006 and later the November general election. Since his win, Ford has been something of a rising star on the local political scene. He also enjoyed 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?" he said.
Ford now joins a lengthy list of indicted Chicago politicians, including former Austin alderman Isaac Carothers, who resigned from office in 2010 after pleading guilty to federal corruption charges. Ford in '06 defeated incumbent state Rep. Calvin Giles, whose uncle, former Austin alderman 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."