Illinois lawmaker pleads guilty in federal court

MICHAEL TARM

CHICAGO (AP) — An Illinois lawmaker who faced nearly 20 federal bank-fraud charges that could have landed him in prison for decades pleaded guilty Monday to a single misdemeanor tax count for shortchanging the Internal Revenue Service of $3,700.

As part of a plea deal, which prosecutors didn't immediately explain, state Rep. LaShawn Ford pleaded guilty to one count of delivering a false federal income tax return for 2007. The Chicago Democrat had initially pleaded not guilty to far more serious charges that each carried sentences of up to $1 million in fines and 30 years in prison.

But federal prosecutors said Monday they would dismiss all the felony counts at Ford's sentencing on Nov. 11. The misdemeanor charge carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Ford originally faced eight felony counts of bank fraud and nine counts of submitting false information to the bank. A felony conviction would have resulted in Ford losing his seat in the Illinois Legislature.

"This is a tremendous result," Ford's attorney, Thomas Durkin, said after the hearing in Chicago. "(The plea deal) permits him ... to get on with his life."

A visibly pleased Ford declined to discuss details of the case, but said: "I'm sorry I underestimated my taxes."

Federal prosecutors did not speak to reporters after the hearing.

Prosecutors initially alleged that Ford made false statements to a bank to get a $500,000 increase on a line of credit starting as early as 2005.

According to prosecutors, Ford told the now-failed ShoreBank he would use the money to rehabilitate investment properties, but that he actually used the funds for expenses such as car loans, credit cards, casino payments and his 2006 election campaign.

But on Monday, Ford, who has been in real estate investments for year, pleaded guilty only to misstating the value of one of his properties on his taxes, and so depriving the federal government of $3,700.