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Judge Jessica Arong O’Brien wants speedy trial on fraud charges

Jessica Arong O'Brien

Cook County Judge Jessica Arong O'Brien, at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse last year | Sun-Times file photo

A Cook County judge facing federal fraud charges pleaded not guilty Wednesday, and her lawyer said she wants a speedy trial.

Two weeks after her indictment, Judge Jessica Arong O’Brien appeared at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse to be arraigned by a fellow jurist, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheila Finnegan. During the hearing, O’Brien listened to her rights and addressed Finnegan as “your honor.”

Before court, O’Brien also allowed herself to be photographed, fingerprinted and swabbed for DNA by authorities, according to her lawyer.

The only vague reference in court to O’Brien’s position on the Cook County bench came when her attorney, Ricardo Meza, referred to O’Brien, and later her husband, as a “respected member of the community.”

O’Brien is married to Cook County Circuit Court Judge Brendan A. O’Brien.

Cook County judge Jessica Arong O’Brien, ,49, center, talks to her attorney after her appearance Wednesday on criminal charges at the Dirksen Federal Building. | Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Madden said he has potentially 100,000 pages of financial records to turn over to O’Brien’s legal team, as well as a few dozen interview reports. He also said the charges against O’Brien involve a loss of as much as $700,000, meaning she could be looking at between four to seven years in prison.

Still, Meza insisted his client wants a speedy trial. Finnegan let O’Brien walk free Wednesday on an unsecured $4,500 bond after turning down a request from prosecutors for an unsecured bond of as much as $100,000.

The Cook County judge later walked out of the courthouse with her lawyer, who declined to comment.

O’Brien, 49, has been charged with one count of mail fraud affecting a financial institution, and one count of bank fraud. Her alleged crimes occurred before O’Brien was elected the first female Filipino-American judge in the Circuit Court of Cook County in 2012, filling the seat vacated by the retirement of Judge Harry Simmons Jr.

She has been reassigned to administrative duties in the office of Judge E. Kenneth Wright Jr., the presiding judge of the first municipal district.

Federal prosecutors allege O’Brien got lenders to provide loans “by making false representations and concealing material facts in documents submitted to the lenders.” An attorney at the time, she used the loans to buy and refinance about $1.4 million in mortgage and commercial loans, including the purchase of an investment property in the 600 block of West 54th Street in the Back of the Yards, prosecutors said.

She then fraudulently refinanced the mortgage on that property and a second investment property in the 800 block of West 54th Street.

O’Brien obtained a commercial line of credit through fraud to maintain the properties, before selling them to co-defendant Maria Bartko, 49, of Chicago, and a straw buyer who fraudulently obtained the mortgage loans, prosecutors said.

She was the subject of a glowing profile on ABC7 News, in which Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans said “we want to see more like her.”