Sitting Cook County judge convicted in mortgage fraud scheme

Timetable on removal from office unclear

A Cook County, Ill. circuit judge is now facing resignation following a conviction in a federal $1.4 million mortgage fraud scheme.

Following a six-day trial, a jury convicted Judge Jessica Arong O’Brien of two counts of fraud for scamming several different lenders through the purchase of two properties on the city’s South Side when she was a lawyer and real estate agent 10 years ago.

The Chicago Tribune reports that O'Brien was elected to the bench in 2012 and is the first Filipina judge in Cook County. She presided over a small-claims courtroom before being reassigned to administrative duties following her indictment last year.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin set O’Brien’s sentencing for July 6.

The Tribune reports that while the scheme took place long before O’Brien was elected to serve as a judge, under Illinois state law it is mandatory that an elected official can’t stay in office after a felony conviction but the timetable for her removal is unclear.

At the time of the fraud, O'Brien was serving as special assistant attorney general for the Illinois Department of Revenue, where she also reportedly held the position of chief counsel to the Illinois Lottery. O’Brien also owned her own real estate company and worked part time as a loan originator for Amronbanc Mortgage Corp.

From the Chicago Tribune:

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Madden told jurors in his remarks that O'Brien lied at least four times on loan and refinancing applications for two investment properties she purchased in 2004 and 2005 when she was working as a lawyer for the Illinois Department of Revenue.

She then made a profit by unloading the two homes in 2007 by paying kickbacks to a straw purchaser, Madden said.

In all, O'Brien pocketed at least $325,000 from the transactions, Madden said. She also caused losses to lenders after the straw purchaser defaulted on payments and the properties wound up in foreclosure, he said.

"She used lies to buy and sell these properties," Madden said.

Among the lies O'Brien told were listing her income as $81,000 in 2004 when in fact she was on maternity leave and made only $11,000 that year, Madden said.

The next year, O'Brien claimed in refinancing documents that her company, O'Brien Realty, took in at least $240,000 in profits in 2005, but tax returns showed only $21,000 in receipts, Madden said.

Maria Bartko, a co-defendant in the case, was also working for Amronbanc and agreed to take part in the scheme, prosecutors said. Bartko plead guilty last month to one count of mail fraud affecting a financial institution and agreed to testify against O’Brien but the Tribune reports she was never called as a witness.

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