State Rep. La Shawn Ford avoided prison time Friday for misdemeanor tax fraud as he was sentenced to six months of probation, fined $1,000 and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service.
It was a remarkable reversal of fortune for a man who had faced up to 30 years in prison on federal bank fraud charges. But the more serious charges against Ford fell apart, and eventually prosecutors dropped all 17 felony counts against the West Side legislator.
Instead, Ford was offered a deal in August to plead guilty to a single misdemeanor: cheating the government out of about $3,700 in income taxes.
“Hallelujah and praise the Lord for a system that we can now look to to say that it is possible to receive justice,” a smiling Ford said outside the courtroom. “If you fight and believe.”
Ford also used his time before the cameras to urge Gov.-Elect Bruce Rauner to appoint someone from the West Side to his transition team. “I’m willing to work with him,” Ford said of Rauner.
For the misdemeanor, Ford could have received up to six months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.
Ford, who runs a real estate business, was originally accused of lying to get a $500,000 increase and a two-year extension on a line of credit from the failed ShoreBank and making false statements to gain multiple advances.
The feds alleged in 2012 that he got the loans to rehabilitate specific buildings but used them for unrelated expenses, including car loans, credit cards, mortgages, payments to a casino in Hammond, Ind., and even for his 2006 campaign for Illinois state representative.
Ford’s attorney, Thomas Durkin, charged that prosecutors unfairly targeted Ford because he is a black elected official — a charge they angrily rejected.
But evidence from a separate civil case showed that white defendants who engaged in identical behavior to Ford’s at ShoreBank were not criminally charged, Durkin argued in court papers at the time.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office had no comment on why they dropped the felony charges in August and had no comment Friday following the sentencing.
Durkin, however, on Friday commended the government’s action.
“It was an extraordinary decision of the U.S. Attorney to reconsider a decision and reverse course. It was the right thing to do and I think the U.S. Attorney should be praised for it, not criticized.”
Before imposing her sentence, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer said she doesn’t “have a lot sympathy with tax crime, because the least we can do is pay our taxes.”
But Pallmeyer also said she agreed with Ford’s attorney, ”that this was fundamentally a mistake.”
The judge said she was also impressed with Ford’s record of public service. “Your advocacy on the part of the people you represent is noteworthy,” she said. “I’m very pleased that I don’t have to send you to prison.”
Pallmeyer concluded by saying that she believes Ford’s real estate career “will be very successful, and that success will translate into lots of tax payments to the United States.”