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Filipino immigrant who became a hotshot Chicago court and sentenced to jail for $1.4 m mortgage fraud

Jessica Arong O’brien, 51, broke into tears after the judge sent her to prison after a federal jury convicted her in February of two counts alleging that they took part in a scheme in which several lenders were scammed.
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The first Filipino judge in Cook County, Chicago, who came to the U.S. with almost nothing and no education, was sentenced on Thursday to one year in prison after he was found guilty of participating in a $1.4 million mortgage fraud scheme a decade ago.

Jessica Arong O’brien, 51, broke into tears after the judge sent her to prison the following February for her conviction of two counts, alleging that she took part in a scheme in which several lenders were scammed, the Chicago Tribune reported.

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She was convicted of lying to lenders to more than $1.4 million in mortgages on two investment properties that she has sold, while they are in the possession of a real estate company.

O’brien allegedly money on the sale of the two homes in 2007, after paying a bribe to a straw buyer. Personally, they made a profit of at least $325,000 from the sale, prosecutors said.

The lenders, meanwhile, the loss of money if the straw purchaser is in default of payment, and properties were excluded.

Jessica Arong O’brien with Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
(Facebook)

Before the conviction, O’brien said that she was “a disgrace” and said that the scheme was a mistake. “Of course, I regret my stupidity,” O’brien said.

Her attorney Steve Greenberg argued for probation, pointing to her true American dream story, where a Philippine immigrants who came to the U.S., without something, educated himself and became a judge.

According to the Tribune, after O’brien came to the U.S., she earned degrees in culinary arts and restaurant management. She later went on to John Marshall Law School, graduated in 1998.

With a degree in law, she went on to become the first Asian elected president of the Women’s bar association of Illinois and served on the board of governors for the Illinois State Bar Association. She is also co-founder of a group in 2008 that provides scholarships to law students of diverse backgrounds.

“It is an inspiring story. Them is cases, and as far as they can fall. She has lost everything. … There is absolutely no reason for this poor woman to prison.”

Lawyer Steve Greenberg

“It is an inspiring story,” Greenberg said. “She is fallen, as far as they can fall. She has lost everything. … There is absolutely no reason for this poor woman to prison.”

But U. S. District Judge Thomas durkin denied the request for probation, arguing that her fraud scheme was not a bug, but a rather elaborate fraudulent scheme.

“This was not stupid,” durkin said, according to the newspaper. “This was a crime… You really don’t need to do this.”

“This was not stupid. This was a crime. … You really do not need to do this.”

— U. S. District Judge Thomas durkin

The prosecutor, meanwhile, used O’brien’s story to push for a tougher sentence, saying that she has committed fraud, despite not having the financial resources to do it.

After the conviction, O’brien blamed family problems that prompted her to get into real estate business, and reiterated that they have done foolishly.

“Of all the things that everyone has told you about me, one thing was missing, dom,” O’brien, to the Stand. “I mean, seriously. This whole process is crazy. I can’t get my hands on.”

“I hope that one day, when I’m six feet under, they learn what has happened here,” she added, hoping the other lawyers know that who will be held to a higher standard.

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