Aaron Schock, a former Illinois congressman whose Capitol Hill office was decorated in the style of the TV show “Downton Abbey,” and whose six-pack abs landed him on the cover of Men’s Health, was indicted Thursday on charges that he misspent government and campaign money for his personal benefit.
Schock, 35, had resigned from Congress last year amid reports of alleged improper spending. The Republican said in a statement that he did so “in hopes of sparing loved ones the indignity of being questioned and harassed about unfounded allegations,” but the government pursued him nonetheless.
“Like many Americans, I wanted to have faith in the integrity of our Justice Department,” Schock said in a 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.”
He said he was eager to “defend my name and reputation in a court of law.”
Schock was charged in a 24-count indictment with wire fraud, mail fraud, theft of government funds, making false statements and filing false documents. The 52-page document spells out a broad array of misdeeds spanning 2008 to 2015.
The indictment alleges that the former congressman from Peoria, Ill., reimbursed himself for 150,000 miles he never drove, bought a new 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe for his exclusive use with campaign committee funds, and reimbursed himself with congressional funds for camera equipment purchased for himself and his personal photographer. It alleges that Schock used government and campaign money to take a private plane with a group to Chicago for a Bears football game, and remodeled his Illinois apartment and Capitol Hill office — paying those who did the thousands of dollars worth of work at least in part from government and campaign funds.
Schock also, according to the indictment, accused a former staffer of inappropriately accessing a friend’s social media account and falsely claimed the FBI and Capitol Police were investigating — prompting the former staffer’s father to hire a lawyer.
All told, Schock caused the government and his campaign committees to lose more than $100,000, authorities said.
“These charges allege that Mr. Schock deliberately and repeatedly violated federal law, to his personal and financial advantage,” U.S. Attorney Jim Lewis in Springfield, Ill., said in a statement. “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.”
Schock was once a rising star in the Republican Party. He was a prolific fundraiser, generating more than $6 million for his 2012 and 2014 campaigns. Handsome and in good shape, his Instagram was filled with pictures of his outdoor adventures, and he once graced the cover of Men’s Health magazine.
But in early 2015, the Office of Congressional Ethics began looking into how Schock spent taxpayer money, including the tens of thousands used to decorate his Capitol Hill office in the style of the PBS show “Downton Abbey.”
That controversy, detailed in The Washington Post, seemed almost comical when it was first revealed. After an interior decorator showed a Post reporter the room, Schock’s communications director said the reporter had “created a bit of a crisis in the office” and asked him to delete pictures taken of it from his phone. He then played down the story and suggested — as Schock’s defense team said more definitively Thursday — that Schock had never seen the TV show.
The dust-up was soon followed by even more reports about Schock’s spending on concert tickets, trips and other travel. Schock said in his statement that the coverage was “overblown and inaccurate” and that, at worst, his team “might have made errors among a few of the thousands and thousands of financial transactions we conducted, but they were honest mistakes — no one intended to break any law.”
“I simply cannot believe it has come to this,” Schock said. “However, we are here not by my choosing. But since we are where we are — I intend to not only prove these allegations false, but in the process, expose this investigation for what it was.”
George J. Terwilliger III, Schock’s attorney, said in a statement that the indictment against Schock “will look bad, but underneath it is just made-up allegations of criminal activity arising from unintentional administrative errors.” He said prosecutors were misusing their power in pursuing the former congressman.
“Criminalizing a handful of administrative mistakes, a few of the thousands of transactions from Aaron’s 6 years in office, to charge Mr. Schock two days after a national election has all the appearances of a politically calculated ambush,” Terwilliger said.
For this part, Schock seemed to compare his case to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state — an inquiry that ultimately produced no charges.
“Unlike some politicians, I did not delete any emails, nor did my staff smash or destroy any electronic devices,” Schock said. “Quite the opposite, every record, every document, every picture on the wall was left behind. I took nothing with me. I knew I had nothing to hide, and I believed that a quick review would prove this fact.”