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Attorneys for State Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-8) on Tuesday questioned the U.S. Attorney's office's decision to bring federal bank fraud charges against the West Side Democrat on what, the attorneys claim may amount to a mistake in paperwork. The argument took place as Ford was being arraigned in federal court in downtown Chicago.
Attorney Tom Durkin called the charges leveled against Ford "unfounded," and plans to vigorously defend his client against what Durkin called "garden variety" bank fraud charges.
Federal prosecutors charged Ford in a 17-count indictment that alleges he fraudulently-obtained a $500,000 increase, as well as a two-year extension, on a line of credit from the now-defunct ShoreBank in 2006. ShoreBank was shut down by federal regulators in 2010. Most of its assets and deposits were acquired from the FDIC by the newly formed Urban Partnership Bank.
"I think there should be questions raised as why at this stage of the game these charges would be brought five to six years later," Durkin told reporters after Ford's arraignment at the Dirksen Federal Building.
"These are garden variety bank fraud charges that have nothing whatsoever to do with his public office," Durkin added, expressing puzzlement that his client is the only person to be linked with the bank's failure.
"I am not aware of any other prosecutions coming out of that bank," Durkin said. "Why the only person that is prosecuted is a popular African-American legislator. I don't understand it."
The Nov. 29 indictment alleges Ford obtained multiple advances by making false statements about his intended use of the bank funds. The indictment also alleges that Ford diverted bank funds toward personal use: for car loans, credit cards, other mortgages owed by ShoreBank, payments to a casino in Hammond, and his 2006 campaign for state rep.
Durkin did not go into specifics of Ford's defense, but contended federal prosecutors may be hinging their case on a mistake "on a financial form" submitted to the bank.
"These cases are usually about numbers put in a form and there are questions about whether banks relied on it or not," Durkin said. "My point is that … when businesses and corporations submit loans, there is often a lot of mistakes made on numbers. And there are questions whether that was material the bank relied upon. I believe we are going to show that this bank was relying on his good character and his person."
Some 50 supporters for Ford took up six rows of seats in Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer's courtroom Tuesday. Ford dressed in a dark suit with a blue and striped tie was released on $4,500 unsecured bond.
Ford's attorneys also expressed surprise over the outpouring of support. Durkin called it amazing.
"You can't make this up. We didn't know that this was going to happen. You don't get people like this to come out and support you under circumstances like this unless you are a man of substance."