Hours after the U.S. Attorney remarkably pulled back 17 felony counts of bank fraud and replaced it with a single misdemeanor count of underpaying his 2007 income taxes, state Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th) expressed gratitude, relief and contrition.
He talked about the past 28 months — eight months under heavy scrutiny by the FBI; and 20 months under indictment while facing a trial that could send him to prison for years, costing him his position in the state legislature and making him a convicted felon.
Following his swift Aug. 4 court date, Ford talked about hard days as the enormity of the charges hit him and the challenge of mounting a defense against the powerful federal legal apparatus that seemed daunting, even as he was convinced of his innocence.
He recalled lying next to his mother who was fighting cancer: “My mom crying with me and telling me everything was going to be OK.” His mother is now in full remission, he said.
Ford talked about the charges and the fight “diminishing my strength as a father.”
He recalled his first lawyer telling him he should take a plea deal and serve his time.
“It is important that people stand up for themselves — and that they admit when they’re wrong,” he said.
While the feds’ action to withdraw the bank fraud charges is nearly unprecedented, Ford was asked why when presented with this plea agreement the week before the trial he pled guilty to the misdemeanor in the end.
“They proved to me that I underpaid my taxes. They found the proof and showed it to me. I should be penalized. I can’t argue with that. I’m guilty of not paying my fair share of taxes,” he said.
Talking to reporters after the plea agreement was signed last Monday, Ford was generous in his praise for his veteran attorney, Thomas Durkin. “He looked at me as a man and he really listened to me,” Ford said. Later in the day, Ford expanded on the topic and explained how it related to his race.
“The majority of criminal courts deal with African-American men. That’s not the race card. It just is. And when you select an attorney, they have to respect you. They have to get to know you. [Durkin] took the time to get to know me. We sat and talked even before he had read the case. Not knowing how much money I had to spend to defend myself. He believed in me. For me as an African American, but for anyone, that is important.”
Now Ford is again looking forward. He is on the November election ballot and is running unopposed.
“I’m grateful to the people in the 8th District for waiting for justice to be discerned, for being willing to allow the legal process to take place. That’s what it is all about,” Ford said. “I can be a better public servant because of this. I’m ready to move ahead if the people will have me. This has given me more of an allegiance to my constituents. This has strengthened my ties to the people of the 8th District.”