CHICAGO – Filipino-American Cook County Judge Jessica Arong O’Brien pleaded not guilty on Wednesday (April 26) to two counts of loan-mortgage and mail frauds involving $1.4 million and forfeiture when she was arraigned before Judge Sheila Finnegan of the United States Northern District Court of Illinois in Chicago.
In the two-count fraud case, which may result in Judge O’Brien’s imprisonment of maximum of 30 years, $1-million restitution and five years of supervised release, Judge Finnegan reduced the prosecution’s recommendation for an unsecured bond from $100,000 to $45,000, saying the defendant is not a flight risk. O’Brien surrendered her passport, was fingerprinted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and swabbed for DNA.
After her lawyers led by Ricardo Meza sought for a speedy trial, Finnegan set the status hearing of the case on May 10 and a conference on the case on June 19.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Madden said the prosecution would be presenting 50,000- 100,000 pages of court records, including 8,000 records of interviews during the trial.
The loss, Madden said, involves as much as $700,000, and she could face between four and seven years in prison.
Judge O’Brien declined to comment on the case when asked by this reporter.
O’Brien, 49, born in Cebu, Philippines, was charged with one count of mail fraud affecting a financial institution and one count of bank fraud. She was charged with forfeiture to satisfy losses incurred by the allegedly fraudulent transactions.
Her alleged crimes occurred before O’Brien was elected the first female Filipino-American judge in the Circuit Court of Cook County in 2012.
For the meantime, O’Brien is reassigned to non-judicial duties in the office of Judge E. Kenneth Wright, Jr., presiding judge of the first municipal district.
She was accused of fraudulently obtaining $1,400,000 along with her real-estate business partner, Maria Bartko, when they refinanced the mortgage and commercial loans they obtained from lenders between 2004 and 2007 when she was not yet a Cook County judge.
The transaction involved the purchase of properties at 625 West 46th St. and 823 West 54th St., both in Chicago, before selling them to Bartko and Buyer A, a straw buyer whom O’Brien and Bartko knew would be fraudulently qualified for The prosecution said that in her loan application, O’Brien claimed her income from the “Illinois Department of Revenue was $6,800 per month, knowing that the represented income was false.”
O’Brien also submitted to the lender a certification of borrower income “knowing that the certification was false.”
O’Brien also purchased the 54th Street and 46th Street properties in a space of one month through Bartko as loan originator with applications containing “materially false statements regarding O’Brien’s income and employment.”
The prosecution also said, “On or about April 16, 2017, O’Brien and Bartko deposited and sent and delivered by United Parcel Service, an envelope containing a payoff check of $297,208.96 addressed to LSAMS1 Payoff Department OH4-7137, Chase Home Finance, 3415 Vision Drive Columbus, OH 43219-6009 for both properties.
O’Brien represented in the loan-refinance applications that her income from O’Brien Realty was $20,000 per month, “knowing that the represented income was false.”
In applying for the line of credit, O’Brien represented that O’Brien Realty’s annual revenue was $150,000 and annual profit was $100,000, “knowing that the represented revenue and profit information was false.”
As a result, the prosecution said, O’Brien and Bartko caused Citibank to fund a mortgage loan in the amount of $73,000 for Buyer A’s purchase of 625 West 46th St. (Chicago) property.