On the eve of his October trial, former Soul 106.3 personality Warren Ballentine told Facebook followers he was looking forward to “Vindication week.”
Ballentine just didn’t realize how long he had left to wait — for a vindication of sorts.
That wait ended Tuesday, eight months after Ballentine’s conviction on six counts connected to a $10 million mortgage fraud scheme. U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly decided to spare Ballentine any prison time, instead sentencing “The People’s Attorney” to three years of probation and 300 hours of community service.
But the judge went further and declared Ballentine a “minimal participant” in the scheme. Ballentine lowered his head and appeared to stifle a sob as the judge announced the sentence. He faced as many as 30 years in prison.
“I was portrayed as the one doing all this,” Ballentine said later, underscoring the judge’s comment as he left court. “And I wasn’t.”
Ballentine, who grew up in Englewood, must also pay more than $140,000 in restitution.
Evidence at trial showed the Chicago State University graduate and others used straw buyers to secure mortgages on 28 properties they never intended to live in. In some cases, it showed he attended closings for the same phony purchasers at two different properties within three days of each other, each time telling the straw buyers to lie on their mortgage forms.
Fraudulent loan applications helped Ballentine and his co-conspirators buy homes in Chicago and suburbs including Monee, Woodridge, Mokena, Country Club Hills, Richton Park and Markham between 2004 and 2006.
But Ballentine’s attorney, Lewis Myers Jr., argued Ballentine merely acted as an attorney at closings and that Ballentine was not involved in any “hanky-panky.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Yonan sought Tuesday to put Ballentine in prison, arguing that among the victims of mortgage fraud are the communities and neighborhoods where the schemes take place.
“Your community suffers as a result,” Yonan said. “Your property values suffer as a result.”
Ballentine, whose show was also carried on WVON radio before his indictment, made an impassioned plea to Kennelly. He told the judge, “I’m guilty.”
“But I’m guilty of being ignorant,” Ballentine said. “I’m guilty of not understanding.”
He acknowledged that ignorance is no excuse, though. He accepted his role in the scheme, and he apologized for what happened.
“Mostly, I apologize to my kids,” Ballentine said. “Because my goal in life was to give them a better life than I had.”
Contributing: Kim Janssen