Attorneys for State Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th) on Tuesday questioned the U.S. Attorney’s office’s decision to bring federal bank fraud charges against the West Side Democrat over what the attorneys claim may amount to a mistake on paperwork.
The argument took place as Ford was being arraigned in federal court in downtown Chicago on Dec. 11.
Attorney Tom Durkin called the charges leveled against Ford “unfounded,” and said he plans to vigorously defend his client against what he called “garden variety” bank fraud charges.
“I think there should be questions raised as why at this stage of the game these charges would be brought — five to six years later,” Durkin said. “These are garden variety bank fraud charges that have nothing whatsoever to do with his public office.”
Ford, dressed in a dark suit with a blue and white striped tie, pleaded not guilty to a 17-count indictment before Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer. He was released on $4,500 recognizance bond. His next court date is a status hearing on Jan. 11.
Federal prosecutors allege Ford fraudulently obtained a $500,000 increase, as well as a two-year extension, on a line of credit from the now-defunct ShoreBank in 2006. ShoreBank was shut down by federal regulators in 2010. Most of its assets and deposits were acquired from the FDIC by the newly-formed Urban Partnership Bank.
Durkin expressed puzzlement that his client is the only person to be prosecuted in connection with the bank’s failure. He maintained that such charges are typically brought for “much more important purposes than this.”
“I am not aware of any other prosecutions coming out of that bank,” he said. “Why the only person that is prosecuted is a popular African-American legislator. I don’t understand it.”
The Nov. 29 indictment alleges Ford obtained multiple cash advances by making false statements about his intended use of the funds. Ford was in the real estate and home renovation business on the West Side. The indictment also alleges that Ford diverted funds toward personal use: for car loans, credit cards, other mortgages owed by ShoreBank, payments to a casino in Hammond, and his 2006 campaign for state rep.
Durkin did not go into specifics of his defense when questioned by reporters, but he contends federal prosecutors may be hinging their case on what may be a mistake “on a financial form” submitted to the bank.
“My point is that … when businesses and corporations submit loans, there is often a lot of mistakes made on numbers and there are questions whether that was material on which the bank relied,” Durkin said.
The bank, he added, was probably relying on Ford’s “good character,” rather than what may have been submitted as paperwork. Durkin argued that this case hinges on the “issue of criminal intent.”
“Everything would focus on that,” he said. “I don’t want to try the case in the newspapers. I do want to see the government’s discovery materials.”
Ford, who was urged not to speak to the press by his attorneys, however, thanked the throng of supporters which came to the arraignment. More than 50 supporters took up six rows of seats in the courtroom Tuesday. Ford said they came because they wanted to, not because he asked them.
Community activist Tio Hardiman was among the supporters in attendance. He said Ford has been very attentive to the community’s needs, especially the ex-offender community.
“You have to have champions in Springfield every step of the way due to the fact a lot of times people’s voices are not heard, and LaShawn is a voice for the underdog,” said Hardiman, who has known Ford for 12 years.
Rev. Christopher Devron, president of Austin’s Christ the King Jesuit College Prep High School, said Ford has been a staunch supporter of the Jesuit school and it students. Ford even helped the school secure $500,000 in funding for general operations. Devron called Ford a person of integrity and said the charges don’t fit Ford’s character.
“The charges are not consistent with the person I know and with everything he’s dedicated his life too,” Devron said. “He has never been about personal gain. He has always been about helping others in need.”
South Austin Coalition Community Council’s Bob Vondrasek also praised Ford’s leadership on education, housing and jobs.
“Apart from all that he is just a good guy,” Vondrasek said.