U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush must give up 15 percent of his congressional salary to begin repaying more than $1 million he owes on a delinquent bank loan to his now-shuttered Englewood church, a judge in Chicago ordered Wednesday.
Cook County Circuit Judge Alexander White ordered the garnishment of more than $2,100 a month from the South Side Democrat’s $174,000 annual federal pay in what was another setback for the longtime congressman-turned-pastor who once promised that the house of worship he founded would help rebuild Englewood.
Though rare, it isn’t the first time a congressman’s wages have been garnished. In one case, in 2014, it happened to U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat who owed more than $1.3 million from a loan for a carwash.
Rush was ordered last June to repay the loan made more than a dozen years ago to buy the limestone, Gothic-style building at 6430 S. Harvard Ave. for what became Beloved Community Church of God in Christ.
Rush bought the former Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, built in the 1920s, in 2005 for $800,000, in part with a $550,000 bank loan from New City Bank. Rush and seven other church members cosigned the loan to the church. Rush’s creditors dropped the other co-signers of the loan from their lawsuit, leaving Rush liable for the entire judgment.
The church stopped making its $3,562 monthly payments in November 2011, records show, and creditors sued Rush and entities linked to him in 2015.
Rush’s lawyer, Berton Ring, tried to get the judge to take only $300 a month from Rush’s congressional pay, citing the congressman’s financial troubles, the death of his wife last year and his having to maintain households in both Chicago and Washington due to his congressional duties. Ring also cited Rush’s age, 71, saying he “has to spend money on vitamins and healthy food products which cost more than unhealthy food products.”
The judge said the law required him to take 15 percent of Rush’s paycheck.
Ring wouldn’t comment after Wednesday’s court hearing.
A spokesman from the chief administrative officer of the House, which would handle White’s garnishment order, said the U.S. House of Representatives “generally will comply with a state court ruling of this nature.”
Rush said at the time he started the church he wanted it to be the key part of his effort to turn things around in the economically struggling, crime-ridden neighborhood. He spoke of building affordable homes and a technology center and providing cultural programs and social services.
But little came of Rush’s grand plans, even with the congressman making donations to the church from his campaign funds — more than $200,000 in all, including $25,000 on the day Beloved closed the deal for the church building — and getting $1 million from the charitable arm of the former SBC, the telecommunications giant now known as AT&T, for a separate nonprofit he formed.
New City Bank failed in 2012. A pool of loans including the one for Rush’s church was acquired by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Colony Northstar Inc., a Los Angeles investment company headed by billionaire Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a friend of President Donald Trump who chaired Trump’s inaugural committee.
Colony manages the partnership, with the federal agency holding a 60 percent interest in recovering the loan and expenses. A spokesperson for Colony said Barrack had no role in the lawsuit against Rush.
John Chase works for the Better Government Association.