State Rep. LaShawn Ford was prepared to face a jury on Monday, to face down federal charges that he had committed 17 acts of bank fraud that could cost him his political office and his freedom. From the day he was indicted in November 2012 right through last week when he spoke to the Journal, Ford has proclaimed that he was innocent.

“I’ll be prepared on Monday to stand trial,” he told us. “My character has already been assassinated. Now this is about regaining my respect.”

Monday morning came and Ford was in the federal courtroom. But instead of a trial it was a remarkable action by the U.S. Attorney’s Office that made headlines. In a virtually unheard of retreat, prosecutors dropped all 17 felony charges and replaced them with one exceedingly modest misdemeanor charge. Ford then pled guilty to misreporting the costs on one real estate rehab project in 2007, an action that resulted in an underpayment of taxes by $3,782. Frankly, this is a trifling charge and one that could, we believe, be brought against virtually any contractor who has ever renovated multiple houses. 

We would anticipate that, when he is sentenced in November, Ford will repay the taxes and a penalty, be given probation and, then according to the plea agreement, the feds will dismiss the indictment altogether.

The Journal has been stout in its defense of LaShawn Ford, not because we had any insights into his tax returns but because we have come to know him in our reporting of his efforts as Austin and Oak Park’s state rep over the past eight years and as a real estate developer before that. We could ask harsh questions of the U.S. Attorney’s Office because these charges have always seemed a gigantic overreach to us. 

Instead we will give credit to that office for stepping back in the 11th hour and re-assessing, for somehow divining that while there are many, many corrupt politicians in our state, while there are a hideous number of black male politicians on the West Side who have sold us out for cash and prizes, LaShawn Ford was a different sort of person.

We are thankful that this industrious legislator, this issue-oriented legislator, this comfortably Austin and Oak Park legislator will continue to serve as our state rep. Thank you, Rep. Ford, for standing up for yourself and letting us stand up beside you.

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