Patrick Daley Thompson on prison life: ‘It was horrible, absolutely horrible’

The former Chicago City Council member from Bridgeport offered a glimpse Wednesday of his life behind bars as he fought to keep from having his license to practice law suspended for three years.

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Patrick Daley Thompson walks in to the Dirksen Federal Courthouse at the start of his trial in 2022. “One of the requirements is: You had to work. I worked as a custodian,” Thompson testified Wednesday.

“One of the requirements is you had to work. I worked as a custodian,” Patrick Daley Thompson testified Wednesday. One bright spot, he said, was tutoring a fellow inmate from the South Side who was trying to get a high school equivalency degree.

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times file

Former 11th Ward Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson argued Wednesday that he shouldn’t lose his license to practice law following his conviction last year for income tax fraud and lying to authorities.

But the hearing before a panel of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission also offered a glimpse of Thompson’s life behind bars during four months at Wisconsin’s Oxford federal prison.

Asked by his attorney about his time there before his release days before Christmas, Thompson — a grandson of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley and nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley — said, “It was horrible, absolutely horrible.

“One of the requirements is you had to work. I worked as a custodian.”

One bright spot, he said, was tutoring a fellow inmate from the South Side who was trying to get a high school equivalency degree.

Thompson, 53, a golfer, said he tried to embrace a Tiger Woods aphorism in prison: “Don’t be bitter, be better.”

“And that’s the attitude I took there,” he said.

Thompson’s law license has been suspended on an interim basis for nearly a year.

Administrators of the disciplinary commission, which regulates attorneys in Illinois, want Thompson suspended from law practice for three years.

It’s ultimately the Illinois Supreme Court that will decide the length of any suspension.

On Wednesday, Thompson tried, as his attorneys did at his trial, to paint the five fraudulent tax returns he filed as inadvertent mistakes.

He presented witnesses — including a priest, a former law partner, a lobbyist friend and former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who was the Chicago Public Schools’ chief executive officer under his uncle — to attest to his character. John Dunn, an aide to the second Mayor Daley, suggested that his law firm would be happy to hire Thompson if he reclaims his law license.

The criminal case against Thompson centered on more than $219,000 he got from Washington Federal Bank for Savings in Bridgeport before it was closed by federal regulators in 2017 over a fraud scheme and not long after bank CEO John Gembara was found dead at a bank customer’s $1 million Park Ridge home.

After Washington Federal’s shutdown, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. handed over Thompson’s loan to a firm called Planet Home Lending.

Evidence at his trial showed that, on his income tax returns for 2013 through 2017, Thompson falsely claimed mortgage interest deductions for interest he never paid Washington Federal.

He also was convicted of lying to a Planet Home Lending customer service representative and FDIC contractors about how much he borrowed from the bank.

He’s appealing the convictions for lying but not for tax fraud.

“My family has suffered. I’ve suffered, my reputation, my name,” said Thompson, whose hearing on his law license resumes next week. “My hope is to try to rebuild my life ... as a practicing attorney.”

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