That was the comment from State Rep. LaShawn Ford on Friday after his sentencing hearing at the Dirksen Federal Building in downtown Chicago.
Ford was sentenced to six months of probation by U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer after agreeing to plead guilty in August to a single misdemeanor count of tax fraud. It was just two years ago that Ford was facing potential jail time and an end to his promising political career when federal prosecutors handed down a 17-count, felony indictment on bank fraud charges. The case never went to trial as Ford agreed to the single misdemeanor charge.
During a press conference after his sentencing Friday, an elated Ford said: “I just want to say ‘hallelujah’ and ‘praise the Lord’ for a system that we can now look to to say that it is possible for people to receive justice in a system like this if they fight, and if they believe and they work well with the system to prove innocence.”
Ford must also serve 100 hours of community service and commit no further offenses during his probation. Federal prosecutors in August decided to drop the felony charges as part of his plea deal.
Pallmeyer said during the sentencing that it wasn’t unusual for her to sentence people of similar backgrounds as Ford, but it was unusual to see someone like him rise to the level where he is now given that background.
“I’m very pleased I don’t have to send you to jail,” she said.
Ford could have been sentenced to up to six months in prison, but Pallmeyer opted to give Ford probation, due in part to his service record in the community, and what she said was “fundamentally a mistake” on Ford’s part.
The misdemeanor charge comes from Ford’s 2007 tax filing, in which he misrepresented the amount of money he spent rehabbing a property on Chicago’s West Side.
Part of the plea deal requires Ford to repay the IRS the $3,782 it lost as a result of the misfiling.
Before Pallmeyer issued her sentence to Ford, he thanked the court for the amount of respect it had shown him throughout the proceedings, and told Pallmeyer he was “stronger as a father” now because of the ordeal.
“Now I can be a father without the burden of the United States government on me,” Ford said during his press conference, adding that he was “joyful” and not angry as a result of the proceedings.
Ford was re-elected to a fifth term in his uncontested race Tuesday.