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Is this all you got?

Tuesday, Dec 4, 2012

* Carol Marin writes about state Rep. LaShawn Ford, who was indicted last week on 17 counts of bank fraud and submitting false information to a bank. Each count carries a maximum 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Marin thinks this is a bit much

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. […]

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?

I agree. Repackage utterly worthless mortgages into AAA-rated securities and crash the entire world’s economy and smugly walk around free as a bird. Allegedly lie to a bank to get a bigger loan to rehab properties in a lousy West Side neighborhood and you’re looking at 510 years behind bars and $17 million in fines.

* To be clear, if Ford broke the law he broke the law. Tough luck for him. But it’s difficult these days not to think that we have two versions of criminal justice in this country: One for the super-wealthy untouchables who ruined the world’s financial system, and one for everybody else.

It’s not that Ford shouldn’t have been indicted. It’s just that I’d like to see the US Department of Justice use the same hardball tactics to round up some of the truly dangerous people in New York.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 10:03 am:

    Could not be better said.

  2. - anon - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 10:06 am:

    Justice is supposed to be blind. This indictment of Rep. Ford is ridiculous. I think that the Feds are hypersensitive to any questionable activity on the part of anybody in public office, or government employees. It needs to turn its focus upward and focus on those who have significant damage to our economy.

  3. - vise77 - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 10:11 am:

    Very well stated. What this politician allegedly did annoys me to no end, but any wave of outrage from that pales next to the tidal force of anger attached to the fact that the people at least indirectly responsible for so many of my friends’ hard times since 2007-2008 still make money hand over fist-and show no apparent shame for their deeds.

  4. - Fun Fun Fun - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 10:13 am:

    My guess is that Jon Corzine is resting easy this Christmas season.

  5. - Dan Johnson - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 10:13 am:

    The US Attorney’s office should drop the charges and focus their taxpayer resources on putting gangbangers in prison and going after the people who tanked the economy. The political scalp-hunting has got to stop. They need to show some prosecutorial discretion. If Representative Ford wasn’t an elected official, he would not be indicted. Talk about horrible incentives for public service.

  6. - Pot calling kettle - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 10:15 am:

    I pointed out last week that defending against the feds and getting a day in court is very, very expensive. It looks like the feds prefer to go after the little folks because they cannot afford to mount a defense and are likely to plead guilty. It takes a lot more work to go after a wealthy person because they can afford a robust defense.

    From a cost-benefit standpoint, this is efficient government in action.

  7. - just sayin' - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 10:19 am:

    “Repackage utterly worthless mortgages into AAA-rated securities and crash the entire world’s economy and smugly walk around free as a bird.”

    Well said. Actually not only walk around free as a bird - get bailouts.

  8. - Dirt Diver - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 10:26 am:

    Well said Rich. These multi-billionaires (without TARP) and their greed almost destroyed the economy. It was not only reckless to be issuing this type of debt in the first place, but when demand dried up, these banks just started loading their books with the stuff, and the smart ones were buying credit default swaps to shift the risk onto AIG and others. The really smart ones like John Paulsen saw the opportunity and purchase billions of Credit Default swaps to profit from Wall Streets #$^& up. Ford will have to answer for actions, so should Wall Street tycoons.

  9. - Crime Fighter - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 10:33 am:

    “One for the super-wealthy untouchables who ruined the world’s financial system, and one for everybody else.”

    Keep in mind that there is a popular view that those untouchables are the “job creators” who built this country through their hard work and ingenuity. - ugh.

  10. - L Y O - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 10:43 am:

    @Dan Johnson
    “If Representative Ford wasn’t an elected official, he would not be indicted. Talk about horrible incentives for public service.”

    You have got to be kidding me. Are you suggesting that we give an elected officials a pass for “minor” federal fraud because they are in public service? Let me call Abbate….he was a decorated officer after all….. Oh and Alderman Beavers…. he’s been serving Chicago a long long time….. Gov. Ryan? cleared death row…… Man, I could do this all day…. Would priests qualify for the perk? What about really REALLY nice people?

    Truly a horrible, horrible way to judge the quality of an indictment.

  11. - Cheryl44 - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 10:44 am:

    I thought the message from early November was that we don’t think highly of these “job-creators.” The corollary being yes, it’s past time some of them were rounded up and jailed for their misdeeds.

  12. - Bigtwich - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 10:46 am:

    “Are you suggesting that we give an elected officials a pass for “minor” federal fraud because they are in public service?”

    No, the Feds usually do not bother with small stuff and this fits their definition of small stuff. If you want them to go after everything be prepared to raise taxes.

  13. - Duh! - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 10:48 am:

    Why don’t the Feds look into the blatant corruption in Cicero. Delgaldo makes Vrdolyak look like a pre-schooler.

  14. - Ravello - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 10:56 am:

    Carol is absoloutely right on this one. As anyone who has ever filled out a financial statement or a loan application knows, going after someone who has made a false or incomplete statement (particularly if they lask sophistication) is easy pickings for prosecutors. Going after bigger fish requires not only more resources but a willingness to take on some pretty heavy interests. So the the U.S. Attorney goes after the low hanging fruit and gets headlines that make it look like they are protecting the public.
    I don’t think anyone (including Rich) is saying they should ignore real wrongdoing–just that they should treat all levels of society the same.

  15. - Willie Stark - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 11:00 am:

    Well said, Rich. And, even though they are on a different plane and not equivalent, the feds’ bust of Derrick Smith is also more than a touch ridiculous. The guy was entrapped. He was a fool to allegedly fall for it, but this is how the feds are spending their time and our tax dollars? Small time bribes? Meanwhile, carnage continues in our streets and every day we wake to read how many people have been shot and killed overnight? That requires a better local-federal coordinated response - and more cops on the streets.

  16. - Formerly Known As... - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 11:00 am:

    Campaign finance records may reflect some of the State’s Attorney’s reasoning.

    Mr. Ford spent $185,529.44 on his initial campaign between 1/05/06 - 6/30/06.

    $170,175.08 (92%) of that came in the form of personal loans from the candidate.

    The indictment alleges that during this same period, Mr. Ford asked the bank line of credit be increased by $500,000 and submitted falsified tax documents in support of his request.

    Further on, the indictment alleges that he spent at least a portion of these new funds on “expenses for FORD’s 2006 campaign”.

    This case may well come down to Mr. Ford’s real tax returns and bank statements.

    If he was fairly well-off at the time, it is completely plausible he had the means to self fund his initial campaign for the seat.

    If he was not, it stands to reason the U.S. Atty. will argue he defrauded the bank in order to help fund “FORD’s 2006 campaign” and secure the seat.

    It will be fascinating to see how this plays out.

  17. - Interested Observer - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 11:03 am:

    It must have been a real tough call that day at the Justice Department. Prosecute Jon Corzine, the former Goldman Sachs CEO and New Jersey governor who couldn’t account for $1.6 billion in missing client accounts at MF Global, or a state representative in Obama’s hometown nobody outside the city has heard of who may not have made the best use of about a half million dollars of money loaned to him by a failed Chicago bank linked to big-time Chicago politicos close to Obama. I’m guessing Corzine’s status as one of Obama’s largest campaign bundlers must have been the tie-breaker for Eric Holder.

  18. - Downstate Illinois - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 11:07 am:

    Didn’t he also use some of the loan funds to pay off casinos? He committed bank fraud and should go to jail.

  19. - Dan Johnson - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 11:09 am:

    I think you misunderstood my point LYO. Allegedly lying for a bank loan (something Rep Ford hotly denies) is the charge. The only reason such a minor offense has risen to the level of a federal indictment is because the alleged perpetrator happens to be a politician. That’s the horrible incentive, because it discourages people from running for office. Politicians should not get in trouble for allegedly doing things that non-politicians do not get in trouble for - especially in a citizen legislature like ours. Put another way, federal prosecutors should not treat politicians differently than non-politicians (except for public corruption, of course, which is not involved in this indictment at all).

    Let’s all take seriously the presumption of innocence. It’s one thing that makes our country great.

  20. - Formerly Known As... - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 11:14 am:

    === Didn’t he also use some of the loan funds to pay off casinos? ===

    Allegedly, yes. The Horseshoe casino in Indiana.

  21. - Loop Lady - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 11:16 am:

    How does anyone get loaned that much money from a bank these days? What was his collateral? This whole story is bizarre to me.

  22. - Montrose - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 11:39 am:

    *How does anyone get loaned that much money from a bank these days? What was his collateral? This whole story is bizarre to me.*

    The key is that it was those days, not these days. Pre-bust, my nine year old could have gotten a loan that big with a hand written note.

  23. - Jake From Elwood - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 11:43 am:

    Everyone who commits a crime should be subject to punishment. However, the severity of the punishment must be proportionate to the severity of the offense.

    The real issue lies with the discretion given to prosecutors and the political pressures that these prosecutors face on a daily basis.

  24. - Leave a Light on George - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 11:49 am:

    “The only reason such a minor offense has risen to the level of a federal indictment…”

    MINOR offenses don’t carry the possibility of 30yrs and $1Million in fines.

    The allegation that some of the fraud helped finance his campaign is what’s driving this case.

  25. - 47th Ward - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 12:00 pm:

    The FBI has been swarming all over the west side for several years now looking into public corruption. My guess is every elected official there has been examined closely. So have their friends. This is what happens when the FBI leaves no stone unturned.

    It’s ticky-tack stuff to be sure, but they found evidence of a potential crime. Like Rich, I just wish they use this same diligence against some bigger fish.

  26. - NW Illinois - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 12:12 pm:

    Agree! They should spend their investigatory and prosecutorial energy on the big, not the little, fish.

  27. - Robert the Bruce - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 12:38 pm:

    Well said on the Wall Street financial crimes. The only way to deter that behavior in the long run is by agressive criminal prosecution. Otherwise Wall Street execs just take their platinum parachutes as they leave their firms.

    Also agree that if Ford broke the law, he broke the law. And I see nothing wrong with the feds being more agressive in their pursuit of investigations of public officeholders than they would if the transgressor did not currently hold public office.

  28. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 1:17 pm:

    Thank you, Carol, thank you, Rich.

    History is going to look on this generation of Americans very harshly for our selfishness and cowardice.

    We worshiped the Robber Barons who threw us crumbs, then watched them commit brazen crimes to wipe out life times of work in hard-earned home equity. Instead of bringing them to justice, we bailed them out, thanked them, and let them go back to work robbing us again.

    After our parents defeated the existential threats of the Fascists and the Commies, we willingly threw away our liberties because we got scared of a bunch of punks with box cutters, and spent trillions to send our volunteers — sons and daughters, mothers and fathers — to die in incomprehensible never-ending wars in places that most of us couldn’t find on a map with both hands if it were printed on our tuckuses.

    While here on the homefront, we endlessly “debate” how best we can gild the lily for the Robber Barons — by robbing from the future, or by robbing from ourselves. The compromise is “both.”

    But thank God the Justice Department is on the case on the West Madison Street, if not Wall Street or K Street.

    I’ll sleep better tonight.

  29. - Ivory-billed Woodpecker - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 1:20 pm:

    I’m remembering “A Man in Full,” where Tom Wolfe described an abundance of yachts that real estate developers had named “First Draw.” (The developer in the novel gave the name to his race horse.) So even if Ford did everything as alleged, I am a little doubtful he is the worst such offender.

    I would have imagined the government’s leading interest here is recovering money owed the FDIC following a bank failure; and I wonder whether a criminal complaint is the best way of getting there.

  30. - Jake From Elwood - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 1:38 pm:

    Well said Wordslinger as usual.
    I would add that the decision to throw away our own liberties was made for us by our elected leaders. Some of us did not willingly throw all of our rights away. I hope history will record that also.

  31. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 1:45 pm:

    The decision not to go after the big financial fraud people was made in DC and NY.

    The decision to continue to prosecute corruption and fraud in Chicago was made in Chicago by the local US Attorney’s Office.

  32. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 2:26 pm:

    –I would add that the decision to throw away our own liberties was made for us by our elected leaders. Some of us did not willingly throw all of our rights away. I hope history will record that also.–

    Jake, we live in strange times.

    A time when there was a large outcry that requiring health insurance was an assault on liberty.

    Yet at the same time, the president of the United States asserted the power to assassinate U.S. citizens — and did so.

    Not a peep.

  33. - Carl Nyberg - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 3:02 pm:

    Rep. LaShawn Ford is a good enough friend that I have gotten a ride in his personal vehicle.

    As I recall it was a mid-size Ford sedan that was about ten years old.

    This isn’t a guy who throws around a bunch of money to show he’s a big shot.

    I don’t know the details, but it seems likely he was invested in real estate and got over-extended. Some of his business loan got used for personal expenses.

    There are some obvious questions.

    Are other real estate loans getting the same scrutiny? Or is Ford’s loan getting attention because the U.S. Atty NID wants to prosecute another politician?

    Of all the ways politicians use their power and the power of government in a predatory manner, is this the best the Justice Department can do? If Ford is guilty, it’s not a victimless crime, but come on. Of all the situations were politicians are actively harming people and violating the law, the FBI skipped them and went after Ford. It don’t seem right.

  34. - Judgment Day (Road Trip) - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 3:46 pm:

    “It’s just that I’d like to see the US Department of Justice use the same hardball tactics to round up some of the truly dangerous people in New York.”

    This is one area where both the OWS and the Tea Party are substantially in agreement. Not one (not ONE) of the ‘bankster’ vermin have been thrown in jail, and much of it is soon to be past the statute of limitations.

    Those lying, corrupt crooks and thieves infesting Wall Street aren’t the job creators. Jobs get created on Main Street all across America and in the small startups, and none of that occurs on Wall Street.

  35. - walkinfool - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 4:14 pm:

    I don’t know what Ford did or didn’t do.

    Nonetheless, these types of potential fines and sentences for the alleged behavior are way out of line.

    My own (somewhat dated) experience as a Commercial RE rehab lender, is that it is common practice for borrowers to try paint a rosy picture of current and potential income to the bank, while taking advantage of every legal gray area to reduce taxable income reported to the IRS. Or to be less than perfect in where the funds were actually used. I recall this happening monthly if not weekly. My job was to sort through it all and profitably lend the Bank’s assets. It’s easy for a US Atty to claim either your statements to the bank were false, or you have evaded taxes, without seeing the entire picture.

    The usual way to correct for this problem is due diligence and common sense by the lending officer, including following the use of the funds on an ongoing basis. If a bad loan occurs, then a strict restructuring and scheduling of payments, is the usual first solution. I really doubt that if ShoreBank were healthy and ongoing, this would trigger a criminal charge.

    But of course I don’t know the details.

  36. - titan - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 4:43 pm:

    The Wall Street big wigs might not be getting indicted because it would draw in their partners in crime - sitting in Congress - who wrote the rules that required a lot of subprime lending to begin with (as well as the rules allowing the intial lenders to bundle them and dump them off on others).

  37. - Valerie F. Leonard - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 6:53 pm:

    I have copied and pasted the following from an event calender for Rep. Ford. This date has changed twice, so you may want to continue visiting the site to keep up with changes.

    Arraignment: TUESDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2012 - 9:30am
    at Everett McKinley Courthouse, 219 South Dearborn in Chicago, IL
    Court room 2119
    FORD asks that his Supporters show up for a “roll call for justice”!!!
    Call 773-960-9269 or Email: if you need transportation
    & if you have a van or bus to provide transportation!!!

  38. - mcb - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 10:30 pm:

    It’s really sad that here, where generally politically astute people hang out, that no one understands the economy. The trading of subprimes wasn’t even remotely a cause of the recession, it was banks rearranging the chairs on the deck of the titanic, trying to make money in a bad situation. But you won’t hear that from either the right or the left. Selling toxic debt can’t snowball that big, it was a symptom, not a cause. I suggest some reading on economic principles.
    However I do agree that the case against Ford doesn’t necessarily seem to be based on ensuring the public good and safety. Let’s spend thousands, then millions to prosecute guys like Blago, Ryan, Smith, and Ford, and when it’s all over Illinois is in the same mess as before. And Ford in my experience is a very nice, caring, thoughtful man.

  39. - Carlos S. - Tuesday, Dec 4, 12 @ 11:47 pm:

    The indictment alleges that using doctored tax forms he mislead the bank in loaning him 1.5 million some of which he spent in casinos and on his campaign. If true, he is big trouble.

  40. - Valerie F. Leonard - Wednesday, Dec 5, 12 @ 9:13 am:

    Here is a link to an op ed piece written in defense of Rep. Ford.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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