Monday, June 17, 2019

Former congressman indicted on 24 criminal counts

If convicted, the former congressman could face decades in prison.

Notorious for decorating his Capitol Hill office in the style of PBS’s “Downton Abbey,” former Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock was indicted Thursday on 24 criminal counts including theft of government funds, fraud, making false statements, and filing false tax returns. Although Schock resigned last year to avoid a congressional ethics investigation into allegations of corruption, his resignation merely succeeded in avoiding the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) investigation, not the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation.

On February 2, 2015, The Washington Post published an article describing Rep. Schock’s remodeled office decorated in the style of PBS’s “Downton Abbey.” Because Schock’s interior decorator, Annie Brahler, had offered her services for free, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint accusing Schock of accepting an improper gift. Although Schock eventually paid $40,000 from his personal finances to cover the cost, the media attention and his own self-promotion prompted further investigations into his extravagant lifestyle.

Appearing on the cover of Men’s Health while posting photos of himself on Instagram hiking across glaciers, surfing, and hanging out with Ariana Grande, Schock flagrantly flaunted a lifestyle well beyond his pay grade. Since first running for office in 2008, Schock raised over $10.8 million in campaign contributions without ever facing a serious opponent. Between December 2009 and February 2010, Schock charged taxpayers more than $100,000 for decorations and renovations to his office.

CREW filed a second complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics after discovering Schock had sold his home in Peoria to a major campaign donor named Ali Bahaj for several times its assessed market value. The House Ethics Committee began investigating Schock in March 2012 after he allegedly violated federal law by soliciting contributions for a political committee in excess of $5,000 per donor. Along with his office’s lavish renovations, Schock charged taxpayers and political donors hundreds of thousands of dollars for private plane trips, Katy Perry concert tickets, NFL games, massages, and luxurious vacations.

As OCE investigators began interviewing his close associates, Schock announced his resignation last year in order to avoid the congressional probe into his alleged illicit activities. On Thursday, a federal grand jury indicted Schock on 24 criminal counts including theft of government funds, fraud, making false statements, and filing false tax returns.

“These charges allege that Mr. Schock deliberately and repeatedly violated federal law, to his personal and financial advantage,” stated U.S. Attorney James Lewis. “Mr. Schock held public office at the time of the alleged offenses, but public office does not exempt him or anyone else from accountability for alleged intentional misuse of public funds and campaign funds.”

“Like many Americans, I wanted to have faith in the integrity of our Justice Department,” Schock said in a recent statement. “But after this experience, I am forced to join millions of other Americans who have sadly concluded that our federal justice system is broken and too often driven by politics instead of facts.”

If convicted, the former congressman could face decades in prison.

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