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The [Tuesday] Papers

"The odds were undoubtedly stacked against state Rep. LaShawn Ford when federal prosecutors indicted him on felony bank fraud charges more than a year and a half ago," the Tribune reports.

"The already sky-high conviction rate at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse rises to near 100 percent in recent years when it comes to public figures. The cases that are brought against elected officials are typically buttoned down tight, experts say. Little is left to chance.

"But in a highly unusual move Monday, prosecutors agreed to drop all 17 felony charges against Ford in exchange for his guilty plea to a single misdemeanor tax count."

WTF?

"Prosecutors declined to comment on the sudden turn of events, leaving many unanswered questions on how the case seemingly fell apart so close to trial."

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This sudden turn of events is being described widely as vindication for Ford, who has enjoyed sympathetic coverage from journalists from the get-go on this case. I've always been more skeptical - and I remain unsure that the feds simply brought a case that so far exceeded the evidence.

"Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor, said cases brought by the U.S. Attorney's Office against politicians are often described as slam dunks, but it's always possible for evidence to shift or witnesses to go south - either by changing their stories or proving to be less than credible."

Perhaps. But a reminder:

"A West Side lawmaker was indicted Thursday on federal charges that he lied to a bank to get a $500,000 extension on a line of credit and used the cash to cover car loans, credit cards, mortgages, campaign costs and payments to a Hammond casino," the Tribune reported in November 2012.

That's the sort of evidence that would seem to have been well-documented, not requiring flaky human sources.

And when Ford said "This is a case of the feds not knowing how real estate is done in the community," well, that seemed to seal it for me. It was as if Ford was saying federal prosecutors simply didn't understand local ways and means - regardless of what some pretty law said.

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Back to today's Trib:

"In pleading guilty to the misdemeanor, Ford admitted that in his 2007 tax return he over-reported what he spent to rehab a single-family house in Chicago's Austin neighborhood, reducing his capital gain from the sale of the home. The deception cost the Internal Revenue Service a tax loss of $3,782, according to the plea deal."

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I still find the media reaction noxious.

"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?" Carol Marin writes.

That's a big enchilada - buying the defense's theory that Ford was targeted because he was black. That's a big accusation to make against the U.S. attorney's office. It's far more likely that Ford was targeted because prosecutors sifting through the wreckage of SouthShore Bank spotted the name of an elected official. That's legit.

"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."

As an aside, maybe a lesson here is that legislating - and aldermanning - should be full-time jobs. I'd like to see outside income simply banned. As with any other pol, running a real estate business in the neighborhoods you represent is fraught with peril and an obvious conflict-of-interest.

But back to Carol:

"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."

Well, on the first point, the loan to Ford wasn't the problem; the charge was that he lied to bank officials to get the money. Why would those bank officials then be charged? On the second point, is it that no white customers who supposedly did the same thing - how many SouthShore customers were lying on their loan applications? - were charged, or that the feds found no other public officials allegedly lying to extend credit to rehab the homes of their constituents but instead spending the money on their overextended selves?

"Only LaShawn 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."

Nothing to do with his performance in office technically, perhaps, but a public official who uses his status to do business in his district is always connecting his performance in office to his private money-making.

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Am I dismissing the possibility that the feds made a terrible mistake? No. But I'm wondering what the coverage would look like if the facts were exactly the same but the defendant was someone reporters didn't like.

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If the feds did bungle as badly as is being portrayed, then that demands investigation. Overcharging occurs, but in this case reporters are telling us prosecutors had virtually no case at all.

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Also, remember that this case was brought by Patrick Fitzgerald announced by interim U.S. attorney Gary Shapiro, the longtime deputy to Patrick Fitzgerald, who is no longer the U.S. attorney. Now we're back to business as usual with Zach Fardon. To wit:

"Significant cases he has handled at Latham & Watkins include representing the University of Illinois in connection with an investigation of its admissions practices in 2009-2010 and representing John Wyma, a key witness in the conviction of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich."

(To be fair: "It was Wyma's cooperation with the government at a critical point in the probe that launched the secret recordings of the ex-governor and ultimately led to his fall.")

Even before Fardon's appointment was confirmed, local pols were urging him to spend more of the office's resources on local crime - which inherently means less on political corruption. (For the record, Fitzgerald spent an enormous amount of time and energy on crime; moves like this seem more for show than anything, especially given that crime has been trending down for years, which is disappointing in how it demonstrates Fardon's apparent willingness to placate people like Rahm Emanuel for political reasons.)

So LaShawn Ford may be an angel, but the coverage of this saga makes me squirm.

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BeachBook
* The New Pornographers Team Up With Intelligentsia For Own Coffee.

More or less aggravating than teaming up with Goose Island for their own beer?

* 'Mr. Roboto' Recording Studio For Sale.

h/t: Gapers Block.

* Obama Sent Undercover Kids To Cuba To Foment Revolution.

Did they arrive in a clown car with exploding cigars?

* Minnesota Hates The White Sox More Than Any Other Team, Including The Packers.

Agree.

* Millennials Do Not Play The Lottery.

Illinois phone app a rousing failure.

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TweetWood

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The Beachwood Tip Line: Drafted.



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Posted on August 5, 2014


MUSIC - The Weekend In Chicago Rock Including Riot Fest Highlights.
TV - No Rehabilitating Vietnam.
POLITICS - Trump's Farmer Heavily Subsidized.
SPORTS - The Cubs' Season In Verse.

BOOKS - Dots & Dashes.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Certified Angus Beef® Honors Chicago Stars.


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