That’s how state Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) responded Friday after his sentencing at the Dirksen Federal Building.
“I just want to say ‘halleljua’ and ‘praise the Lord’ for a system that we can now look to to say that it is possible for people to receive justice in a system like this if they fight and if they believe and they work well with the system to prove innocence,” Ford said.
The Austin lawmaker was sentenced to six months of probation by U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer after agreeing to plead guilty in August to a single misdemeanor count of tax fraud.
Ford must also serve 100 hours of community service and commit no further offenses during his probation, as well as pay a $1,000 fine.
Federal prosecutors had originally indicted Ford on 17 felony counts of bank-fraud but decided to drop those charges as part of the plea deal.
Pallmeyer said during the sentencing that it wasn’t unusual for her to sentence people of similar backgrounds as Ford, but it was unusual to see someone like him rise to the level where he is now given that background.
“I’m very pleased I don’t have to send you to jail,” Pallmeyer said.
Ford could have been sentenced to up to six months in prison, but Pallmeyer opted to give Ford probation, due in part to his service in the community and what she said was “fundamentally a mistake” on Ford’s part.
The misdemeanor charge comes from Ford’s 2007 tax filing, in which he misrepresented the amount of money he spent rehabbing property on Chicago’s West Side.
Part of the plea deal requires Ford to repay the IRS the $3,782 it lost as a result of the misfiling.
Before Pallmeyer issued her sentence to Ford, he thanked the court for the amount of respect it had shown him throughout the proceedings, and he told Pallmeyer he was “stronger as a father” now because of the ordeal.
“Now I can be a father without the burden of the United States government on me,” Ford said during a press conference after his sentencing.
Ford said he was joyful and not angry as a result of the proceedings.
Federal prosecutors never made it clear why they decided to drop the felony charges against Ford.
Ford was re-elected to a fifth term in the Illinois General Assembly Tuesday.