SHE WILL FILE AN APPEAL
By JOSEPH G. LARIOSA
(© 2018 Journal GlobaLinks)
CHICAGO (JGL) -- FILIPINO AMERICAN COOK County Circuit Judge Jessica Arong O'Brien was sentenced to one year and one day Thursday after two and a half hours
of oral argument as an emotional Ms. O'Brien broke into tears, blaming herself for her "stupidity" that caused her to commit the two counts of mail fraud and bank fraud for her role in the $1.4-M mortgage fraud that occurred years before she was elected as a judge.
Ms. O'Brien becomes the first Cook County judge to be sentenced in 20 years
But she did not admit wrongdoing as her lawyers are going to mount an appeal. “If she wants to file her appeal tomorrow, we can file it,” according to her lead defense counsel, Steven A. Greenberg, who described the “extraordinary unique sentence imposed as fair as it is a third of the suggested sentence” by the Probation Officer.
Allan A. Ackerman, another defense lawyer for the 51-year-old Ms. O'Brien, a native of Cebu, Philippines, said because “Jessica will be entering prison after 90 days, the sentence could be shortened to nine months.” He described the sentence as “reasonable.”
Even Ms. O'Brien appeared pleased and relieved by the brief sentence as her tears dried up as soon she heard the sentence of Judge Thomas M. Durkin who told her at the end of the sentencing that “your family will survive and be proud of you because of the letters I received” seeking clemency.
When this reporter suggested that “you can write a book while you are in prison,” Ms. O'Brien smiled, saying “I will do it.”
Judge Durkin held out the possibility of the case could be overturned, saying the “2004/2005 real estate transactions were not part of the scheme” and the “crime is too old” having been filed by the U.S. government ten days before the statute of limitation expired in 2017.
FELLOW PRAYER GROUP MEMBERS OF JESSICA O'BRIEN:
SUPPORTERS, FRIENDS and classmates of Jessica Arong O'Brien shown in this photo were part of about the two dozens who attended her sentencing Thursday at the U.S. District Court of the Northern Illinois in Chicago. They said they were “sad but feel fine" with the verdict. Photo shows from left Anolou Lim, Jenny Senalde and Christine Cadlaon. Not in photo is Mydi Manguiat, also a childhood classmate of Jessica, who was also in the courtroom, but had to leave right away after the sentencing was announced by the judge. They said they prayed together with Jessica to overcome her troubles at their prayer group, Apostolate of Divine Mercy in Northbrook, Illinois (JGL Photo by JOSEPH G. LARIOSA)
In her previous motion to dismiss her indictment, Ms. O'Brien called her indictments “constitutionally and statutorily defective, making it impossible for her to defend herself.” She said her indictments should be dismissed on grounds of “duplicity” as the Government failed to allege a “single or ongoing scheme.” She said, “Counts I and II of the Indictments both allege four distinct and isolated substantive offenses, each of which occurred at different times, and each of which involves different people, different false statements, different methods and means, and different objectives.”
4 SEPARATE CRIMES NOT A SCHEME?
Ms. O’Brien argued, the four (4) separate transactions were joined together in order to avoid the statute of limitations that—absent the purported scheme—would have. The motion incorporated a contemporaneously filed memorandum of law precluded prosecution for any wrongdoing on the first three (3) transactions from 2004, 2005, and 2006. Judge Durkin deferred ruling on this motion, leaving it to the jury to rule on it.
The tense-filled hearing highlighted the downfall of one of the most high-profile Filipino Americans who was awarded by President Obama with her community engagements and became the first Asian American to head the Womens Bar Association of Illinois, Inc. and gave up her judgeship, volunteered to suspend her law license pending sentencing, lost her reputation, her family reputation and the public trust.
Ironically, it was President Obama who signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 following the financial crisis in 2008. Jessica dodged the bullet when her case did not apply to the reform law as her case happened in 2007. The penalty for this crime raised the prison term from five to 30 years and the fine was raised from under $10,000 to $1-M for each violation.
Last February this year, O'Brien was convicted of scheming to scam several lenders in selling two properties in the Chicago Southside while she was an Illinois government lawyer and a part-time real estate originator, broker and owner of a real estate company bearing her name by overstating her income and understating her liabilities.
When she was asked by Judge Durkin to say her piece before the sentencing, O'Brien gave an incoherent statement and broke down, saying she is just a “simple lawyer not part of a large entity raising a family” and chided the Government for saying that she had “no remorse. I'm not sure what that means. I feel embarrassed.” As she was crying uncontrollably, this prompted Judge Durkin to call a five-minute recess.
When she returned to the stand, Ms. O'Brien said, “I'm innocent. I went to confession on the first Saturday of September. … Hell and heaven and purgatory. I'm not stupid. They have the copy of the MLS transaction. People voted for me. … It is embarrassing to be removed from the bench. … I was taking care of my father. I couldn't let my Dad go. I could keep my family together with Dad. I was stupid doing application for a property owned by a Filipino to buy no matter how expensive and look to be the real estate loan originator, processing, doing everything in real estate." She wanted to help her Dad even if he abandoned her and her mother when she was growing up in the Philippines for a second family.
“NEVER GET IN TO SOMETHING YOU DON'T KNOW ABOUT”
“Never get in to something you don't know about. I'm so stupid. Lied about, living for free, 90 days lapse, 45 days update. You don't close 60, 90 days. We documented” the transactions. But these documents were “never given to the judge” by her previous lawyer she fired after she was convicted by the jury," she suggested.
In denying her request for no-prison time, Durkin said, “This wasn't stupid. This was a crime. You really didn't need to do this.”
O’Brien was convicted of lying to lenders to obtain more than $1.4 million in mortgages on two South Side investment properties that she bought and sold between 2004 and 2007 while owning a real estate company. She was then also working as a special assistant attorney general for the Illinois Department of Revenue.
During the trial, the prosecution claimed that O’Brien made money by selling the two homes in 2004 at 46th Street and 54th Street in 2005 and in 2007 she paid kickbacks to a straw purchaser (Christopher Kwan) and real buyer (Maria Bartko). In all, O'Brien pocketed at least $325,000 from the transactions, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Madden said. She also caused losses to lenders after the straw purchaser defaulted on payments and the properties wound up in foreclosure, he said.
O'Brien added, however, both Kwan and Bartko “had every intention to pay both loans. The eventual foreclosure was the result of the recession, not a pre-determined plan.”
The courtroom was nearly packed by Jessica's supporters, mostly fellow lawyers she mentored, friends, school classmates, and family members, including her daughter, Samantha, 21. Her husband Brendan O'Brien, her law school sweetheart, who is also a Cook County judge, was a no-show. Another Filipino American Cook County Judge Israel “Izzy” Disierto also attended the sentencing.
Jessica blamed herself for the mess that shattered her career, reputation, family, friends and everything. She hopes one day “somebody will look at this case and learn something from all my suffering."
O'Brien blames her decision to a family situation in 2003 when she embarked on the real estate business.
Before Judge Durkin ended reading the sentence, he told O'Brien one reason she got a light sentence is due to the several dozens of letters that included one from her alma mater -- her grade school, high school classmates and long-time friends of the St. Theresa's College (STC) in Cebu City, Philippines.
In seeking a probation sentence for Ms. O'Brien, her classmates told Judge Durkin, “Although largely blind to the specifics of the case, we would like for you to see Jessica through our eyes. To us, her sisters from St. Theresa's College, Cebu City, Philippines, she was nothing short of a heroine. Her meteoric rise from her humble beginnings in a third world country was the stuff of legends. She is simply our pride and joy. She could have just opted to practice law in the Philippines while raising her three young daughters (Samantha Theresa, 21, Judy Rose, 15, and Vanessa Kate, 12) but she chose to get out of her comfort zone to serve the public.
“Despite this lapse of judgment from years ago, her humility and sincerity still shine through in these dark times. And, yes, she truly remains a heroine in our eyes.”
One of Jessica's classmates from St. Theresa's College, Ms. Christin Cadlaon, a Chicago resident who works as a clerk at Stroger Hospital, said the sentence of her friend is “okay sa akin” (it's fine with me.)
Ms. Cadlaon's friend, Analou Lim, also a friend of Jessica who joins them at their church prayer group, Apostolate of Divine Mercy in Northbrook, Illinois, said about Jessica's sentence: “I feel sad for the family, especially the children.” Their prayer group colleague, Jenny Senalde said, “So sad.” They said they have prayed that Jessica overcomes her struggles.
A Chicago-based Filipino lawyer, Carlos A. Cortez, said, “It is very sad for the Filipino community that a Cinderella girl from Cebu who became a Filipino judge in Chicago, Illinois was convicted and sentenced.”
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