Feds drop all felony charges against local state rep

LaShawn Ford pleads guilty to single misdemeanor

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Bill Dwyer

State Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-8th) pleaded guilty Monday morning in federal court to a misdemeanor charge of misreporting his federal taxes in 2007, which resulted in him underpaying those taxes by $3,782. 

But that plea was a far cry from the 17 felony bank fraud charges that he had faced until Monday. In a stunning turn, federal prosecutors dropped all of those 17 charges against Ford, who represents all of North Riverside and a portion of northern Brookfield.

After Monday's court appearance, Ford's attorney, Thomas Durkin praised Ford for having "the courage of his convictions" and his willingness to go to trial on the charges. 

Ford had faced up to 30 years in prison on each of the 17 counts of the bank fraud brought by the U.S. Attorney's office in November 2012.

Durkin also praised recently appointed U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon for his willingness to come to a resolution of the charges against Ford.

Ford will be sentenced Nov. 7 by Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer, who told Ford at the court hearing that federal sentencing guidelines call for a sentence of up to one year in prison. Fines could also reach $100,000. 

And while Pallmeyer is not bound by the plea agreement negotiated by the U.S. Attorney and Ford, that document suggests that Ford is unlikely to be sentenced to prison. Owing to the small amount of unpaid taxes and Ford's otherwise clear criminal history, federal prosecutors stated in the agreement that after sentence is passed they will dismiss the indictment.

The outcome also allows Ford to continue in the state legislature as well as maintain his real estate and insurance licenses. Ford was first elected to the state legislature in 2007.

The basis for the misdemeanor charge traces to Ford's work rehabbing and reselling homes on Chicago's West Side as part of his real estate business. The specific charge involves the rehab of a single-family home at 5700 W. Erie St. in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago. 

Prosecutors alleged that on his 2007 income tax return Ford overstated the amount of money he spent to rehab the home. The tax return said Ford had invested $74,226 to rehab the house while the prosecutors set the actual figure at $51,160. That difference, prosecutors said, resulted in an underpayment of $3,782 in federal income tax.

In an interview last week with the Landmark's sister paper, Wednesday Journal, Ford acknowledged not paying close enough attention to the bookkeeping for his many rehab projects. But he said he had faith in his accountant and now has learned that the ultimate responsibility is with the person signing his name to any documents.

Ford, 42, was indicted by the U.S. Attorney in November 2012. The 17 charges — eight for bank fraud and nine for submitting false information to the now defunct Shore Bank — all stemmed from real estate rehab work that Ford had done on his native West Side. 

The feds alleged that Ford had submitted false information to the bank in order to extend and increase a line of credit at the bank. Other charges alleged that Ford had co-mingled his personal expenses with the business line of credit.

From the first day of the indictment, Ford vehemently declared he was innocent of all charges and promised to defend himself aggressively.

Dan Haley contributed to this report

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