Updated 11/7/14 – 1:15 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — A state lawmaker from the West Side avoided jail time Friday, when a federal judge sentenced him on misdemeanor tax evasion charges.

“I just want to say hallelujah, and praise the Lord for a system that we can now look to to say that it is possible for people to receive justice,” Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) said after he was sentenced to probation and a fine for a single count of tax evasion. He had faced much more serious charges before arranging a plea deal with federal prosecutors.

Ford was re-elected Tuesday, after running unopposed in the 8th Representative District on the West Side.

Ford pleaded guilty earlier this year to a single misdemeanor count of filing a false tax return. In exchange, federal prosecutors dropped more than a dozen much more serious felony counts of bank fraud and other charges.

At Ford’s sentencing hearing on Friday, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer said she was glad she didn’t have to send the 42-year-old lawmaker to jail, citing his rise from poverty and difficult circumstances to become a respectable public servant.

However, Pallmeyer called Ford “careless,” and said he made a mistake in regard to his 2007 income tax return.

Pallmeyer sentenced Ford to 6 months probation, a $1,000 fine, and 100 hours of community service. She also ordered him to pay $3,782 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service – the amount of taxes he owed on his 2007 income tax returns.

Ford has said he’s sorry for underestimating his taxes, and he said he is already paying back what he owes.

His attorney, Thomas Durkin, said it was extraordinary that everyone at the sentencing hearing, including prosecutors, seemed to feel Ford should not face jail time.

“I mean, I’ve been part of some minor cases, where there were extraordinary people who got big breaks, but never something in which I think everybody was saying the same thing, the government included,” Durkin said. “This is a guy that deserves a chance.”
According to a copy of Ford’s plea agreement, he earned income by investing in real estate and rehabbing property. In March 2007, he sold a single-family home at 5700 W. Erie St. for $275,000. According to the plea, when he filed his 2007 federal tax returns the next year, he claimed $74,226 in rehabbing costs for the Erie Street home, when in fact the costs were only $51,160, resulting in a $3,782 tax benefit.

Allowing Ford to plea down to a single misdemeanor was a rare and surprising move for the feds, who agreed to reexamine the evidence in the case and drop the felony charges in the case after initially charging ford with 17 felonies.

In November 2012, Ford was indicted on 17 felony counts of bank fraud and submitting false information to the now-defunct ShoreBank. At the time, the feds alleged he got a $500,000 extension on a line of credit for his real estate business in 2006, then used the money to pay off personal and campaign expenses – including car loans, credit card bills, mortgage payments, and gambling.

Ford’s plea deal made no mention of any of those allegations, and prosecutors have never explained why they declined to pursue the more serious charges.