It was a large and vocal crowd that braved chilly temperatures Tuesday morning to show their support for state Rep. LaShawn Ford, who was arraigned on federal bank fraud charges.
Ford plead not guilty.
The Nov. 29, 17-count indictment charges that he 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. Ford’s accused of using those funds for personal expenses, including paying off car loans, credit cards and a gambling bill to a Hammond casino.
Ford, however, has maintained his innocent and insists those funds were used to rehab distressed properties on the West Side, including in Austin. The four-term incumbent is facing jail time of up to 30 years and a million dollar fine per count if found guilty. He has said he will not resign while he fights the charges.
More than 50 of his supporters attended Tuesday’s arraignment.
A day before he was set to be arraigned, nearly 20 Austin and west suburban ministers made an appeal to federal prosecutors to reconsider the charges against Ford.
They gathered at Ford’s Chicago Avenue district office on Monday to pray with Ford, whom the pastors called a “rising star” in Chicago’s often rough-and-tumble political scene.
“Many of us have worked with him down through the years…we know him to be an honest man and a politician who has fought on behalf of the people of this district,” said Rev. Ira Acree of Greater St. John Bible Church and co-chair of the LEADER’s Network.
Acree, who served as spokesperson for the group, urged federal prosecutors to rethink the charges against Ford. Acree added that their plea does not make light of the charges, “but from what we know of (Ford), we believe that there has to be a misunderstanding.”
“In the event our request falls on death ears and the prosecutors continue to pursue this case and discover some wrongdoing, even then, I still plea for the mercy of the court because this man is needed in this district,” Acree said.
Co-chair, Rev. Marshall Hatch clarified that Monday’s gathering was not initiated by Ford, but by local pastors. Hatch believes that once the facts are out, Ford will be exonerated. He called the incumbent an “independent voice” in the community.
“Not every public official has the kind of community support that is genuine, bona fide and heartfelt as does state Rep Ford,” said Hatch, pastor of Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church. “We believe in him and that does not change, and will not change because we know him. We know his heart.”
A website, Stand4Ford.com, has been put up by his supporters to garner support and donations for his legal defense.
Ford, who attended Monday’s prayer vigil, spoke briefly, saying he was overwhelmed by the support. He remarked that it’s easy for politicians to lose sight of their duty as public servants, focusing instead on raising money and befriending lobbyists. But Ford maintained that this support shows the strong relationships he has with the community.
He thanked the pastors for their prayers and support, and also reiterated his innocence. “Trust me; it is true that I am innocent of all charges filed against me,” he said.
When asked by reporters how he still puts the work of the people first with this cloud over his head, Ford said he is doing what the people elected him to do.