The lawyer for indicted Cook County Judge Jessica Arong O’Brien accused federal prosecutors Thursday of unfairly targeting his client because of her job.
Ricardo Meza made the claim in court while arguing a two-count mortgage fraud indictment against O’Brien and Maria Bartko should be dismissed, largely on technical grounds. Meza suggested prosecutors should have indicted others who had a role in the alleged scheme.
“Why indict any of those people when you’ve got a Cook County judge?” Meza said.
But U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin told him, “that goes nowhere, the issue of whether the right people got indicted.” He and Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Madden also noted that Meza had yet to file a motion formally accusing the U.S. Attorney’s Office of vindictive prosecution.
“They’re just throwing out claims to see what sticks,” Madden later told the judge.
O’Brien is charged with bank fraud and mail fraud affecting a financial institution. A grand jury indicted her and Bartko in April, and the case has been rushing to an Aug. 7 trial date after O’Brien made a rare speedy trial demand. Bartko is expected to plead guilty before the trial starts and then testify against O’Brien.
Though the alleged criminal activity took place before O’Brien became a judge, Meza has indicated the FBI twice recorded phone calls placed to O’Brien last fall. She was elected the first female Filipino-American judge in the Circuit Court of Cook County in 2012. She has been reassigned to administrative duties in the office of Judge E. Kenneth Wright Jr., the presiding judge of the first municipal district.
Meza argues the indictment against O’Brien “makes absolutely no sense” and amounts to a flimsy attempt to prosecute O’Brien for crimes outside of the statute of limitations. Madden told the judge the indictment is built around O’Brien, her investment properties and the lies she told to lenders. He said it “couldn’t be more simple and straightforward.”
The judge did not rule on the matter Thursday.
The feds say O’Brien lied to land and refinance about $1.4 million in mortgage and commercial loans, which she used to purchase an investment property in the 600 block of West 46th Street, and to refinance a second investment property in the 800 block of West 54th Street. She then fraudulently obtained a commercial line of credit to maintain the properties before selling them to Bartko and a straw buyer, prosecutors say.