Updated: September 6, 2014 6:22AM
It almost never happens. But on Monday, it did.
Federal prosecutors dropped 17 felony counts of bank fraud and false information against State Rep. La Shawn Ford in exchange for his pleading guilty to a single misdemeanor income tax charge.
Let that sink in.
The Chicago lawmaker faced years in prison. Each felony charge carried a 30-year maximum sentence. Multiply 17 by 30 and see what you get.
Then, just last week, Ford’s trial was removed from the federal docket. Poof! Gone.
In the Great Recession, the Obama Justice Department has sent no Big Bankers to jail for the billions they plundered, but it went after a lone black state representative for 17 counts of felony bank fraud? The charge: improperly using a $1.5 million line of credit from ShoreBank in his struggling real estate business, with some of the money going to pay personal debts.
Amazingly, not a single soul from ShoreBank responsible for lending Ford the money, nor a single other customer — many white — was charged with making bad loans or defaulting on loans.
Only La Shawn Ford was bagged by the government. What set him apart? He was an elected official, though the charges had nothing to do with his performance in office.
Ford, 42, represents the Austin neighborhood of Chicago. It is predominantly black and largely impoverished.
First elected in 2006, Ford went up against the regular Democrats who endorsed the incumbent hack, Calvin Giles. It took Ford three tries, but he finally won.
The Machine was stunned.
Life has always been against the odds for La Shawn Ford. The son of a drug-addicted mother, he was raised by his grandmother and sent to Catholic schools. And then to the seminary.
Ultimately, his path took him to teaching and business. And politics.
At his 2012 arraignment in federal court, the lobby of the Dirksen Federal Building filled with people from his neighborhood. Unlike when fellow state Rep. Derrick Smith was indicted on bribery charges, there was an outpouring on behalf of Ford that is seldom seen in the granite courthouse.
But newly appointed U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon was firm in a recent WTTW “Chicago Tonight” interview that the prosecution was neither selective nor unwarranted.
“The answer to your question is no,” he told me. “We set the bar high in terms of what we require before we pull the trigger on an indictment.”
Ford’s defense attorney, Thomas Anthony Durkin, argued otherwise in a strongly worded brief:
“The mere fact that [Ford], an African-American elected state official, is the only former ShoreBank customer to be charged criminally when so many other individuals were . . . in the same or similar positions leaves little room for argument that the prosecution carries the presumption of regularity. . . . Unable to find any political corruption grounds to prosecute Defendant, the prosecutors selected this misguided and improper bank fraud case.”
On Monday, after the felonies were dropped, Durkin was diplomatic, throwing bouquets rather than bricks at Fardon’s office for doing what was “right and courageous.”
It was right.
It was courageous.
Look, we all make mistakes.
Including the feds.
They just never can say they’re sorry.
Their Monday press release began with the headline: “STATE REP. LA SHAWN FORD PLEADS GUILTY TO MISDEMEANOR TAX OFFENSE.”
It would have been a lot more honest to say this: “FEDERAL PROSECUTORS DROPPED A WRONGHEADED FELONY CASE SO AS NOT TO RUIN A GOOD MAN’S LIFE.”