Standing up for LaShawn Ford

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

The news reports Thursday that another Chicago politician had been indicted by the feds brought the usual, and not unfair, reaction: "Good. They nailed another crook."

This time though, with the indictment of state Rep. LaShawn Ford, I'd ask you to step back, look more closely and consider the possibility that the U.S. Attorney's Office has, in this case, erred.

Ford, who represents much of the Austin neighborhood and a large part of south Oak Park, has been charged with 17 counts of bank fraud. A Realtor and home rehabber by profession, the feds allege that Ford used portions of the proceeds from a line of credit at the now defunct Shore Bank to pay for personal expenses, including, among other things, car payments, campaign funding, and most notoriously, to pay off a debt at an Indiana casino.

That all sounds bad. And I'm pretty sure LaShawn Ford would admit he was too casual with his recordkeeping during those years when his West Side real estate business was growing quickly, the number of rehab and resell projects was rapidly rising, and, I'll bet, cash flow got tight at times.

He was, in my estimation, a pretty typical scrappy entrepreneur who loved the work, was passionate about improving housing on the West Side where he grew up, and wasn't as focused on the details of bookkeeping, of running a business, as he should have been. Couple that with the loose money that banks were lending in that pre-crash real estate market, and I wouldn't be surprised if some bank line of credit money got co-mingled at times with personal checking accounts.

Is it right? No. Is it fairly commonplace? Banking sources I've talked to would say yes, especially if the bank wasn't monitoring accounts as closely as they should have. One source is astonished that a case this small has been brought up as a criminal matter at all.

But here are the more telling facts: The houses LaShawn Ford bought to fix up and resell were all completed. He didn't pocket the money and let the houses rot. He fixed the houses as he planned, and until the real estate market collapsed, he sold the homes and made payments on his line to the bank.

Sure, it isn't good to owe a note to a casino. But the release of that fact by the feds is intended to suggest that Ford was living large and far past his means. That doesn't seem the case. He lives in a modest home in "The Island" neighborhood of Austin. That's south of the Ike and is about the most working class housing you can find.

What seems likely is that with Shore Bank's failure, the FDIC scoured the bank's books and came across the name of an elected official. They turned this modest case over to a U.S. Attorney's Office that focuses lasers on hints of improprieties among the elected. And that led to this. Keep in mind that these charges go back to a time before Ford had even been elected to office. This isn't political wrongdoing like all the rest of the Democratic hacks who've disgraced the West Side by selling their offices and have rightly gone to prison.

So why do I care? Because for 17 years we've published the Austin Weekly News and I've seen the greed and contempt of elected officials as they plundered the public purse while Austin reeled with crime and lousy schools and decaying services. It has been appalling.

And I know, because I've been there, that LaShawn Ford is different — different and better and decent at his core. He's not a machine hack. He's a fine man, almost certainly imperfect, but a person who is in government for all the reasons that should make us proud. This man talks about real issues of violence and guns, about education and opportunity. He doesn't talk cautiously, craftily. He talks honestly and from the experience of living. He is present. He is visible. He knows real people and he listens well.

We could be jaded and say he got caught even if the wrong was small, common and mostly unintentional. So now he has to pay and we'll move on to the next petty hack the machine serves up. Or we could be hopeful, perhaps even a bit naïve, and demand that actual justice — as in service and honor — be done and that a path gets cleared for LaShawn Ford to continue his work, perhaps humbled, but still strong and true.

This is a fight worth fighting. This is a man to stand up for.

Email: Twitter: @OPEditor

Reader Comments

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Posted: December 10th, 2012 7:11 PM

Hey guys, I'm with you, but you're looking at my "apples" and not your "oranges." Reread the articles and Mr. Haley's column (above) and you'll notice that I'm addressing THEIR "apples" with MY "apples." All of those pieces focus on "oops" by Mr. Ford and I'm saying that they should be asking if his "oops" are essentially related to theft? If they are, then this would put their "reporting" in a far different light - and Mr. Ford's "oops" defense, too. Perhaps Mr. Haley also think differently.

Uncommon Sense  

Posted: December 10th, 2012 5:31 PM

Whether he paid the loan back is irrelevant. The bank loan was made for one purpose and used for something else which is FRAUD. However, one does wonder why the Feds are expending so much going after him. It is probably discovered after Shore Bank failed and existing loans were audited and catching politician with their hand in the cookie jar, no matter how small of a case, probably helps someone's career.


Posted: December 10th, 2012 5:01 PM

@OP Transplant. Again, I'm NOT disagreeing with your post - I just want to gauge the seriousness of the charges. Tax fraud issue to the side, I don't care if he used some of the bank loan to pay for his campaign, long as he paid it back!!! If he did not, IMO, his various defenses (and the explanation provided by Dan Haley) are irrelevant - because he STOLE THE MONEY!!! If true, then he DID defraud me - and all US Citizens thru the FDIC. PS - There are "gray areas" in the law.

OP Transplant  

Posted: December 10th, 2012 3:40 PM

@Unfortunately: I understand that you can be forgiving, but it's not really your place to forgive Mr. Ford, since he didn't defraud you. And I don't mean to imply that Mr. Ford should be locked up forever, but rather that he might not be deserving of the public trust placed in a state lawmaker. I continue to claim that Illinois citizens have a right to expect better. There should be a higher standard for public office than "Innocent until proven guilty."


Posted: December 8th, 2012 4:28 PM

OP Transplant, I'm not disagreeing with your post - I did note that the tax fraud issue "IS serious," but what I felt was overlooked in every article on Ford (including Mr. Haley), was that it was not reported whether or not he actually paid back the debt. I "get" that the loan terms seemed to be "restrictive" - but then how did it get thru the banker providing oversight? But with most Chicago/Cook County politicians outright stealing....IF Ford repaid the bank loan(s), I can be forgiving.

OP Transplant  

Posted: December 7th, 2012 3:18 PM

Whether he repaid it or not, if he lied to the bank to get a loan to repay gambling debts, among other personal expenses, he has the kind of character issues that seem to be the hallmark of Illinois politicians. It may be simple to you, "Unfortunately," but federal prosecutors see bank fraud differently. Maybe lawmakers should have to follow the laws, just like the rest of us. Why are our expectations so low?


Posted: December 6th, 2012 8:31 PM

To me, it's simple - either Mr. Ford did or did NOT repay the bank. If he did, I don't care very much about the fraud, car payments and the casino stuff. HOWEVER......if he did NOT repay the loans, which is unclear to me in the various articles (I can guess, though).........then I care A LOT!!! Don't misunderstand me, presenting false tax returns IS serious, but trivial compared to the usual shenanigans from the politicians. DID.HE.REPAY.THE.LOANS - and the debt incurred for the casino, etc?

OP Transplant  

Posted: December 6th, 2012 3:13 PM

Mr. Haley, et al.: Have our expectations of political leadership become so low that we continue to blindly support elected officials even after criminal indictment? Even in Illinois, we deserve better. Assuming Mr. Ford is as good a man and representative as supporters say, he's still been indicted for using fraudulently obtained bank funds to pay private expenses, including gambling debts. Illinois voters must expect better than the parade of criminals we've been getting!

Morris Reed from Chicago  

Posted: December 6th, 2012 12:31 PM

Great Article, We support our State Representative. We have appreciated his energy and passion to improve our community and look forward to many more years in service.

OP Transplant  

Posted: December 6th, 2012 10:46 AM

Atty: It's possible that the indictments are all lies and the prosecutors are driven by racism, but it's unlikely. If they're lies, Mr. Ford will be vindicated at trial. Still, gambling debts and big bank loans are what make many of us go "hmmm".

Ned Ryerson from River Forest, Illinois  

Posted: December 5th, 2012 9:57 PM

I thought the real high point was the line of credit at the casino. Because, when I'm in debt, thats acceptable behavior. A little more objectivity would be required; but that's not the WJ way.


Posted: December 5th, 2012 5:59 PM

@ OP Transplant: Hate you missed the constituent meetings with Rep Ford; be on the lookout for more details about defenses to allegations, particularly since this is all connected to a failed community bank where folks are looking to point fingers to cover their own behinds...isn't it convenient that these charges stem from something that supposedly happened 10 years ago and the target just happens to be an outspoken black elected official from the Westside. Things that make most of us go hmmm.

Lenora from Chicago  

Posted: December 5th, 2012 2:57 PM

I have known Mr.Ford professionally & personally & he has shown nothing but honesty & integrity as a politician. Its unfortunate that a man from such humble upbringing is being portrayed as another crooked politician. Mr.Ford is a great leader helping many unfortunate people with opportunities to improve themselves. We need OUR leader to continue to represent us. He has seen what we seen, been where we are so he's too familiar with our lives. I only have respect Mr.Ford

OP Transplant  

Posted: December 5th, 2012 2:29 PM

I don't know Ford personally, but "he's a really good guy" is a weak criminal defense. Maybe the indictments are completely false, but if they're not, he has to pay the same price we all would.

Bennett Marco from Manchuria  

Posted: December 5th, 2012 11:57 AM

LaShawn Ford is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life.

Ken Hunter from River Forest  

Posted: December 5th, 2012 11:26 AM

I have known Rep. Lashawn Ford personally and professionally for over 5 years. He is a man of integrity, compassion and amazing decency. Most importantly he is my friend and a friend to his community. I support him and your paper's position. Thank you for your courage!

sarah patton from chicago il 60639  

Posted: December 5th, 2012 10:17 AM

Dan I am so glad you wrote a column that did not rush to judge.

coy pugh from chicago  

Posted: December 5th, 2012 10:10 AM

I have known Rep. Ford since his days as a school teacher. He is good man a responsible legislator and a wonderful father. i stand with you and many of his colleagues here in Springfield. We know perfection is not of man. We also know that he will be vindicated of any and all wrongdoing.

Dawn from Chicago  

Posted: December 5th, 2012 9:15 AM

Thank you Dan Haley for your unwavering ability to be fair and balanced

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