Updated 12/11/12 – 3:57 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — As he made his first court appearance on federal bank fraud charges, state Rep. La Shawn Ford got the rock star treatment from dozens of West Side residents who came out to show their support for the embattled lawmaker.
Those supporters told CBS 2′s Derrick Blakley they came out because Ford has done so much for so many in his district.
Ford was received at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse more like a conquering hero than an indicted lawmaker on Tuesday, as he went to court to plead not guilty to bank fraud.
He received thunderous applause and heartfelt support from about 40 supporters who crowded into the courthouse lobby to cheer him on. Ford held back tears before making a brief comment.
“I love all of my family and friends there, and they came because they wanted to, not because I asked them to,” Ford said.
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In a 17-count indictment, prosecutors have alleged, starting in 2005, Ford submitted false income tax returns to Shorebank, in order to obtain a $500,000 extension on a line-of credit that was to be used only for his real estate business, and used some of the money for personal expenses.
Shorebank itself failed in 2010, and Ford’s attorney questioned why charges took so long.
“Why, all of a sudden at this stage of the game, five to six years later out of a bank that had all that trouble – and I’m not aware of any other prosecutions coming out of that bank — why the only person that’s prosecuted is an African-American popular legislator, I don’t understand it,” Durkin said.
Durkin also implied the charges were retribution for Ford’s failure to cooperate with federal authorities on another matter. He said his defense will focus on Ford’s lack of criminal intent.
Ford walked free on $4,500 recognizance bond after pleading not guilty Tuesday morning.
Ford’s supporters said the government’s charges don’t jibe with the rising political star they know.
CeaseFire director Tio Hardiman, who said he was there in a personal capacity, said Ford has “championed rights for ex-offenders, and bringing more jobs and needed resources to his district.”
Ford’s backers intend unfailing support.
Bob Van Drasek, with the South Austin Coalition, said “There’s a lot of love here, and we sure as hell hope that it works out for the good.”
Durkin stressed the allegations against Ford have nothing to do with his public duties, and he believes Ford’s seat in Springfield should not be in jeopardy.
Durkin said Ford’s life has been a true Horatio Alger story, referring to the 19th century author famous for “rags to riches” stories about poor young men rising from humble beginnings to middle-class security through hard work and honesty.
“If somebody like this can get run out of office because of a charge like this we’re in worse shape than I thought,” he said.
The judge allowed Ford to miss his next court date to attend House session in Springfield.
If convicted, Ford faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.