IIllinois State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford
Updated: January 3, 2013 6:25AM
Minutes after the indictment of state Rep. La Shawn Ford was e-mailed to reporters Thursday by the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago, I dialed Ford’s cellphone.
And, it turns out, broke the bad news.
“Can you read it to me?” he asked.
It’s not that Ford was unaware the feds were looking at his loans connected to the now failed ShoreBank. He did know that. But what he also knew, he insisted, was that neither he nor his company, Ford Desired Real Estate Inc., engaged in $500,000 worth of bank fraud.
But the feds claim he got a half-million dollar line of credit and then converted some of it to personal use for car payments and a casino bill.
Until the housing crash, Ford’s company, which bought and rehabbed properties, was reportedly solvent and successful.
In 2006, he won a spot in the Illinois General Assembly on his third try.
“This just kind of breaks my heart,” said Cindi Canary, former boss of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
A number of people I spoke to feel the same way.
Here’s what I wrote in June of 2006. “Call me a Pollyanna. Call me a crazy optimist. . . . But today I am hopeful about a candidate in the November election.”
That candidate was La Shawn Ford, a non-Machine politician and child of the Austin neighborhood.
He’s spent the last two days in his office meeting constituents, answering their questions about the charges. Ford told the Sun-Times, “I can walk proudly and defend myself.”
Back in 2006, Ford visited Canary to ask for guidance. “I actually had somebody come to me and ask about ethics and how to do this right,” she said by phone Friday.
Ford acknowledges not keeping the best accounting records but said, “There is no bank fraud in my blood. I’m a hard-working man.”
The charge against Ford, according to one former fed I spoke to, is a relatively ordinary case that might not have made it into the top drawer of a prosecutor except that it involved a politician.
But Ford’s indictment, unlike that of state Rep.-elect Derrick Smith for bribery or Cook County Commissioner Bill Beavers for misuse of campaign funds, is unrelated to his elective office.
Moreover, can we talk just a second about the Department of Justice’s sense of proportionality?
President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice has done virtually nothing to hold Big Banks or Wall Street’s feet to the fire for the crash they caused. Too big to fail, DOJ hasn’t had the cojones to send them to jail.
But if Ford, whose own business foundered in the crash, is found guilty, he’s not looking at fines or penalties like some lucky billionaire bankers. He’s looking at prison time.
The assistant U.S. attorneys prosecuting Ford, Greg Deis and William Ridgway, have reputations for excellence and honor, but the decision to prosecute Ford was made at a higher pay grade than theirs.
And, by the way, did no executive at the failed ShoreBank have any knowledge of what Ford now stands accused?
So let me ask this again.
Is this the best the feds can do?