Feds drop charges against Schock, if he pays back money

Chronicle Media

Former Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock

More than two years after he was indicted by a federal grand jury on 24 felony charges, former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock is off the hook, for the most part.

In Chicago March 6, U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kennelly approved an agreement between the United States Attorney’s Office Northern District and the defense team that Schock repay $42,000 to the Internal Revenue Service and $68,000 to his congressional campaign funds.

On a final contingency, his campaign committee, Schock for Congress, pleaded guilty that day to failing to properly report expenses, a misdemeanor that carries a fine of more than $26,000.

Schock, now 37, was first elected to represent the 18th Congressional district in 2008 and resigned his house seat in March 2015 amid a federal inquiry into the use of his campaign funds and House expense allowance.

Schock was subsequently succeeded by fellow Republican Darin LaHood following a special election in 2015.

A 52-page indictment followed in November 2016, citing such indulgences as office renovations to the theme of the PBS series, “Downtown Abbey”, Super Bowl Tickets bought, then sold for profit, private jets, and extravagant gifts.

Schock faced nine counts of wire fraud, one count of mail fraud, five counts of false filings with federal election officials, six counts of false tax returns, two counts of making false statements and one count of theft of government funds.

“I am ready to put this behind me and move forward,” Schock said in a March 6 statement. “I have stated consistently and constantly that mistakes were made in the handling of my campaign and congressional offices, and I have acknowledged responsibility for that — but mistakes are not crimes.”

Mistakes may not be crimes, but they come with a price. Schock’s well-crafted political career, which began months after he graduated from Richwoods High School, ended quickly and Shock says he’s spent millions in legal and other fees since 2015.

“You don’t take 24 felonies and dismiss all 24 felonies if you think you can get somebody on four, five, or six felonies, “ Schock told MSNBC reporters hours after charges were dropped. “I’m in year four and this is why it’s cost me nearly $4.5 million. I’ve been through three sets of prosecutors before they said, ‘you know what … never mind.’”

The case was originally filed by the Central District’s Springfield office, but was transferred by the Justice Department in 2018. Schock has said he believes he was targeted by the Springfield office and considers the justice system “broken”.

“You know what a broken justice system does? It takes people’s liberty and life,” Schock continued. “You can call me nostalgic, but those are two things this country was founded upon, and if we don’t do something to fix our criminal justice system, we should all be worried.”

Schock has accused federal prosecutors of malfeasance, particularly Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Bass, who resigned from the case after admitting in a filing that he and prosecutors told the grand jury 11 times that Schock wasn’t going to testify.

In 2018, Schock’s case was reassigned from Urbana-based U.S. District Judge Colin Bruce, who exchanged improper emails with a former colleague at the U.S. attorney’s office regarding another case.

Later, in August 2018, the Springfield office was stripped of the case, and it was reassigned to prosecutors in Chicago.

Also during the case, the FBI wired a former Schock congressional staffer. The unnamed informant secretly recorded Schock while he was still in Congress and supplied the FBI with documents from Schock’s Illinois office, including items from another staff member.

The overall social media response to the March 6 reversal is mixed. Some believe Shock was the victim of a “witch hunt”, while others say he should have gone to prison.

“He wasn’t cleared of wrong doing. It is called deferred prosecution. He struck a deal to avoid felony prosecution. If he doesn’t fulfill the terms of his deal he will still face prosecution on felony charges. That isn’t vindication it’s confirmation of his wrong doing,” DawnPatrol13 posted to Schock’s recently-revived Twitter page.

Still, the prosecution believes the case was carefully combed over before charges were dropped Assistant U.S. attorney and Northern District spokesman Joseph D. Fitzpatrick said in a statement, “We conducted a thorough review of the case before proceeding with today’s agreement. We believe this agreement provides a sensible resolution. It’s a just result and provides the necessary public accountability.”

As for the displaced politician who spent his entire adult life involved in Central Illinois politics until 2015, most are wondering what his next move will be.  Schock has reportedly been splitting his time between Peoria and Los Angeles.

“People ask me, now what? What are you going to do with the rest of your life? Well, it’s the first morning I’ve woken up today that I’m not facing 80-100 years in prison,” Schock said in the interview.  “Am I excited about that, sure. Am I a little bitter about what has happened to me over the past couple of years? I think any American would be.”