A Cook County judge Wednesday ordered the garnishment of U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush’s congressional paycheck to help repay more than $1 million for a loan taken out to buy a church in Englewood.
Under the plan approved by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Alexander White, 15 percent of the 71-year-old Chicago Democrat’s $174,000 annual congressional salary – about $2,100 per month – will be withheld to pay back the loan.
In 2015, creditors took Rush and entities tied to him to court after the church he organized as a pastor stopped making payments on the loan. The creditors won a judgment last year and since then the case has wended its way through the courts as the creditors have tried to get at least some of their money back.
In an odd political twist, the investment management company that currently owns the debt, along with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., is headed by billionaire Thomas J. Barrack, Jr., a close friend of President Donald Trump who chaired Trump’s inaugural committee.
Rush’s attorney fought the size of the garnishment, arguing the withholding should be reduced to $300 per month because Rush is financially hard-up.
In a motion filed in the case, attorney Berton Ring said Rush’s congressional duties require him to maintain households in Chicago and Washington. Ring also said Rush is struggling following the death of his wife in 2017.
Ring also cited Rush’s age in arguing for a reduction in the size of the garnishment. He said Rush had to cope with financial difficulties because he “has to spend money on vitamins and healthy food products which cost more than unhealthy food products.”
Ring declined comment Wednesday following the hearing.
White rejected Ring’s argument, saying he was required by law to order the seizure of 15 percent of Rush’s paycheck and lacked discretion to reduce the amount.
Though questions have arisen in the past about whether a state court would have jurisdiction over a separate branch of federal government, a spokesman from the Chief Administrative Officer of the House, which would handle White’s garnishment order, said the U.S. House of Representatives “generally will comply with a state court ruling of this nature.”
While a garnishment order against a sitting member of Congress is unusual, it is not the first such order involving a sitting member of the House.
In 2014, a similar order was issued against U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City Missouri who owed more than $1.3 million tied to a loan for a car wash business.
In 2005, Rush purchased the former Our Redeemer Lutheran Church at 6430 S. Harvard Ave. and said the house of worship would serve as the cornerstone of his plans to rebuild the economically distressed Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side.
The purchase price of the church was $800,000, in part funded with a $550,000 bank loan from New City Bank. Rush and seven other members of what is now called the Beloved Community Church of God in Christ cosigned the loan and the congregation soon moved in.
But little has come of Rush’s grand plans. Some of the congressman’s social service ideas failed to take root and the church’s finances were often shored up from Rush’s political connections.
In November, 2011, court records show, the church stopped making its monthly $3,562 loan payments, eventually sparking the lawsuit.
The $1.1 million judgment against Rush for the church loan includes $542,000 in unpaid principal, $441,000 in interest, $48,000 in plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees plus other expenses, records show. While the original loan was made by New City Bank, that institution failed in 2012, and the loan was acquired along with a pool of other loans from failed banks by the FDIC and the Los Angeles-based Colony Northstar Inc., which Barrack runs as executive chairman.
The arrangement predates Trump’s June 2015 entry into the presidential race, as does the lawsuit. A spokesperson for Colony said Barrack played no role in the lawsuit against Rush.
This story has been updated with news from the spokesman for the Chief Administrative Officer of the House.