Filipina-American judge sentenced to jail for $1.4-M mortgage fraud 

• Jessica Arong O’Brien

Jessica Arong O’Brien had made history for being first Filipina judge in Cook County, Illinois 

A former Filipina-American judge in Cook County, Illinois this week has been sentenced to jail for one year for her involvement in a $1.4 million mortgage fraud scam.

Jessica Arong O’Brien — who made history when she was elected as the first Filipina-American judge on the Circuit Court of Cook County in 2012 — received her sentencing from U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin on Thursday, December 20.

A federal jury found the 51-year-old Filipina guilty earlier in February for lying to lenders to receive $1.4 million in mortgages and pocketing $325,000 during the purchase of two properties in Chicago’s South Side over a decade ago, before she was a sitting judge.

“I am an embarrassment,” O’Brien said in her statement in court on Thursday.

She also tearfully spoke of bringing shame to her family and ruining her career. (She is married to Cook County Judge Brendan O’Brien.)

“Of course, I have remorse as to my stupidity,” she also said, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The former judge was born in Cebu, Philippines and migrated to the United States, where she first enrolled in community college and went on to pursue a bachelor’s of science in hotel and food management from Boston University, as mentioned in her Asian Journal feature in 2016.

“The best thing that ever happened to me was coming to the U.S. because before that, I never had any direction,” O’Brien said in that interview with the Asian Journal.

She then attended John Marshall Law School where she became the school’s first student to obtain a joint J.D./L.L.M joint degree in tax law. O’Brien became the first Asian elected president of the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois and served on the Illinois State Bar Association’s board of directors.  In 2008, she co-founded a foundation that gives scholarships to law students from diverse backgrounds.

In his argument for probation on Thursday, O’Brien’s lawyer, Steve Greenberg, said, “It is an inspirational story. She has fallen as far as she can fall. She has lost everything…There is absolutely no reason to send this poor lady to jail.”

While the alleged fraud was taking place, O’Brien worked full-time as a special assistant attorney general for the state Department of Revenue. She also worked part-time for Amronbanc Mortgage Corporation as a loan officer, and owned her own real estate company under the name of O’Brien Realty LLC, according to feds.

The prosecutor back in February said O’Brien embellished her income when applying for loans — she once left out a $260,000 mortgage on her primary residence.

In 2012, she was elected to serve the court of Cook County, Illinois, the second-most populous county in the U.S. after Los Angeles County.

“I look at my position as an opportunity to be a part of the system that works,” O’Brien previously told the Asian Journal. Following her indictment in 2017, O’Brien was reassigned to non-judicial activities before she was convicted in February of this year. O’Brien resigned in September, as Illinois law mandates that an elected official cannot remain in office following a felony conviction. (AJPress)

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