Aaron Schock, the former Republican congressman from Peoria battling public corruption charges since 2016, claimed a rare and stunning victory Wednesday, striking a deal that will likely end the case with no conviction — but an embarrassing loss for federal prosecutors.
“There’s a difference between mistakes and crimes,” Schock said in the lobby of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse after U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kennelly approved the agreement, which included acknowledging he owed the IRS taxes on undeclared income.
Still, Schock’s lead defense attorney, George Terwilliger, a former Justice Department deputy attorney general standing next to Schock said, “he didn’t plead guilty to anything,” underscoring the depth of Schock’s win.
Having the deal secured, Schock then returned fire. He said the Justice Department should investigate the prosecutor in Springfield in charge of the case against him.
Schock was referring to the one-time lead prosecutor on his case Timothy Bass, who was in the running to become the next U.S. Attorney for the Central District of Illinois at the same time he was pursuing Schock, his biggest “catch.”
Instead, President Donald Trump tapped John Milhiser for the Springfield-based post.
“I’ve been wronged in this process by a prosecutor who saw me as his ticket to stardom and who was allowed to go unchecked,” a relieved Schock said in the lobby.
Schock, not using his name, said Bass was a “rogue operator.”
Schock’s legal team has been complaining about the prosecution tactics for years in the long-running case. In August 2017, Schock’s lawyers accused federal investigators of prosecutorial misconduct on a variety of grounds, including pressing witnesses about Schock’s sexuality, whom he slept with and if he is gay.
Schock’s downfall started with sensational stories about a gaudy congressional office redecoration that quickly snowballed after investigative stories in the Chicago Sun-Times and other news outlets questioned spending from campaign and government accounts.
Until his downfall, Schock was a rising Republican political star in Congress and mentioned in Illinois politics as a potential governor or senatorial candidate.
The telegenic Schock grew prominent through his frequent television hits and his flair for posting pictures from his travels on social media accounts and showing off his six-pack abs on a Men’s Health cover.
When he arrived at the U.S. House of Representatives in 2009 at the age of 27, he was the youngest member of Congress at the time. Schock represented a central Illinois district that took in parts of Peoria, where he lived.
After the U.S. attorney’s office in Springfield launched its probe in mid-March 2015, Schock resigned under a cloud of suspicion on March 31, 2015.
Schock was indicted on Nov. 10, 2016 for allegedly using campaign and public funds improperly for cars, mileage reimbursements, interior decorating, a charter plane flight to a Bears game and sports tickets he resold for profit.
Bass declined through a spokeswoman to comment on a case that seemed to go awry long before Schock reached his deal Wednesday. Now, Schock’s prosecution is all but finished, thanks to a pair of machinations in federal court in Chicago.
“It began with a bang,” Terwilliger said in the Dirksen lobby. “That bang turned out to be a blank. Now it’s ending with a whimper.” Terwilliger said he hoped the Justice Department “will take a hard look at how this happened.”
THE SCHOCK DEAL
Most significantly, Schock reached a deal with prosecutors here to put his case on hold for six months, during which he is required to meet certain conditions and remain under court supervision. If he does so, the charges against him will be dropped.
Primarily, he must pay $67,956 back to his campaign committees and pay outstanding taxes due from the years 2010 through 2015. He also admitted, on the record, that he sought reimbursement for mileage without documentation that led to reimbursements “that exceeded the number of miles actually driven.”
He also admitted he took tickets he’d landed at face value, for events like the World Series and the Super Bowl, and resold them for a profit.
By doing so, he made $42,375 that he did not report on his federal income tax returns for the six years he spent in office. The exact amount of the tax liability still has to be determined. Ironically, Schock served on the powerful tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
Secondly, the campaign committee Schock for Congress pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor revolving around the lack of documentation for Schock’s mileage reimbursements. Kennelly ordered the committee to pay a $26,000 fine. An attorney representing the campaign fund was in court on Wednesday.
Still, as long as Schock keeps his end of the deal he struck with prosecutors, he will walk away from his public corruption case with no conviction —a result nearly unheard of in Chicago.
But Schock’s case did not begin in Chicago, where federal prosecutors routinely bring criminal corruption cases against public officials. The indictment was issued by a federal grand jury in Springfield, where for years Schock was the biggest fish on the hook of the prosecutors there.
The case was transferred to Urbana, where U.S. District Court Judge Colin Bruce was bounced after being accused of inappropriate communications with a paralegal, even though it did not involve Schock’s case.
Bass withdrew from the case after accusations surfaced of his misleading a judge. Bass also drew fire for investigating Schock’s private life.
Last year, the Justice Department reassigned the case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois, based in Chicago.
TURNING POINT IN THE CASE
That became a key turning point in the case, because the Chicago prosecutors took a fresh look at the charges filed against Schock, a break very few defendants ever get.
Joseph Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago, said prosecutors here “conducted a thorough review of the case before proceeding with today’s agreement.”
“We believe this agreement provides a sensible resolution,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s a just result and provides the necessary public accountability.”
Terwilliger said prosecutors here had “the courage to really give the case an objective review and come to the conclusion that they did —that it should not proceed and reach the result that we have today.”
The Justice Department did not reply to a request for comment.
The payments Schock and his campaign fund must pay this year are on top of voluntary reimbursements Schock made in 2015.
The 2015 repayments included $40,000 for the gaudy office redecoration and $1,237 after the Sun-Times revealed taxpayers paid for a charter plane to fly him from Peoria to Chicago for a Bears game. Schock also reimbursed all official — not campaign — mileage he was paid since joining Congress to make a repayment total of $127,950.
Since leaving Congress, Schock, 37, has divided his time between Peoria and Los Angeles, where he works in real estate development. The judge allowed Schock to be supervised by federal authorities in both cities.
Schock’s main campaign fund, Schock for Congress, at the end of 2018 had a $279,163 cash-on-hand balance with operating expenses last year of $273,948 for legal costs to several firms involved in his criminal case and in representing his campaign funds. The fund carries a $746,985 debt.
Terwilliger, a McGuireWoods partner based in Washington, has represented Schock for most of the case. Christina Egan, the managing partner of the firm’s Chicago office, is also part of Schock’s legal team.
The prosecutors in the Chicago office overseen by U.S. Attorney John Lausch on the Schock case include Erik Hogstrom.
Schock’s eyes glistened as he talked to reporters in the Dirksen lobby. Asked about the repayments he must make, Schock said he has established a legal defense fund.
Schock, 37, said, “I’m focused on the future not the past. And I would say that through this very tough four years of my life I have been strengthened. Mentally. Spiritually. Physically, through this process. And I have to focus on the positive of that and the future that lies ahead for me, now that this is behind me.”
He added, “I’m looking forward to having this weight off my chest and not having it the first thing I think about every morning and the last thing I think about before I go to bed.”
Schock is not sure what’s next. “I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m looking forward to being able to resume some semblance of a private life and looking for ways to contribute to society.”
With a favorable outcome pending, Schock wants to get his reputation back.
He told the Sun-Times later on Wednesday he will be talking to Sean Hannity on his FOX News show. On Thursday, he will be in New York for a hit on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
SCHOCK, BLAGOJEVICH, JACKSON
Schock’s public corruption case is ending up with reimbursement payments and no criminal charges against him.
Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is serving 14 years in a federal prison in a corruption case where he was never charged with taking a dime.
Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., with good time, served 23 months for looting $750,000 from his campaign funds in a scheme with his former wife, the ex-Ald. Sandi Jackson, who was sentenced to a year and a day. The two pled guilty in August 2013.
In a Facebook post, Jackson wrote, “Before I went to prison, I paid back every cent from my campaign as well, a second mortgage. I paid back every dollar, but I still had to go to prison. It’s all good though, I am happy for Aaron. He was great to serve with.”