A former associate of Cook County Judge Jessica Arong O’Brien pleaded guilty Friday to her role in a $1.4 million mortgage fraud scheme and is expected to testify at O’Brien’s criminal trial next month.
Maria Bartko, 50, of Streamwood, pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud affecting a financial institution.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin put off setting a sentencing date until after Bartko’s anticipated testimony against O’Brien, who is scheduled to go to trial Feb. 5 on mail and bank fraud charges stemming from the same alleged scheme. O’Brien has pleaded not guilty.
Federal sentencing guidelines call for up to about three years in prison for Bartko, but prosecutors said they will recommend a reduced sentence of about a year and a half if she testifies truthfully, according to her plea agreement.
An indictment last year charged O’Brien with 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 when she owned a real estate company and worked part time as a loan originator for a Lincolnwood real estate company. She was then also working as a special assistant attorney general for the Illinois Department of Revenue.
O’Brien was elected to the bench in 2012 as the first Filipina judge in Cook County and had most recently presided over a small-claims courtroom. She’s since been reassigned to administrative duties pending the outcome of the criminal case.
At the time of the alleged scheme, Bartko was a loan originator at Amronbanc Mortgage Corp., where O’Brien was working part time, according to the indictment.
O’Brien allegedly used fraudulently obtained mortgage loan proceeds to buy an investment property in the 600 block of West 46th Street in Chicago and then lied on applications to refinance the mortgage on the property as well as on a second investment property in the 800 block of West 54th Street in Chicago.
The indictment also alleges that O’Brien fraudulently obtained a commercial line of credit to maintain the properties before selling them to Bartko and a straw buyer.
Asked by Durkin on Friday to put succinctly in her own words what she did, Bartko launched instead into a lengthy explanation about how she was simply following the direction of her superiors at the bank.
As a single mom, she said, she was looking to make extra money.
As Bartko continued, her attorney, Thomas Brandstrader, cut her off and asked the judge for time to confer with her in private. When they returned to the lectern, Bartko said simply, “I know what I said was false information.”
O’Brien, who is married to a judge, immigrated to the U.S. after high school, earning degrees in culinary arts and restaurant management, according to online biographies. She then made a career change and attended John Marshall Law School, graduating in 1998 and later serving on its board.
She was the first Asian elected president of the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois and also served on the board of governors for the Illinois State Bar Association. The judge also co-founded a foundation in 2008 that awards scholarships to law students from diverse backgrounds.
Judge Jessica OBrien has been indicted, why is Timothy Evans keeping her on the payroll and burdening taxpayers?
Also, when is the FBI going to investigate all the funky property records of attorneys Jerome Larkin, Melissa Smart and other Judges who are making clearly biased rulings and I have a ton of information on those problems?
Who is looking into that?
Today I got a call from a client who sent off grievances to the FBI, the DOJ, the states attorneys, the OIG, the OIEG and other places. An attorney from Lisa Madigan’s offices called him up and says that Lisa Madigan will not prosecute a judge who helped an attorney and his client break a trust and steal $300,000+ from an estate and who changed a court date (docket tampering and file tampering, both felonies), he says he never heard of any probate corruption before. The client gave him this blog and NASGA blog and probatesharks.com so he will get an earful. How do these people get hired for $50k plus per year and they deny knowing anything about court corruption and deny it as if it does not exist? Un freaking believable. I will publish the name of the attorney soon as I get it.