Illinois' 'Downton Abbey Congressman' Aaron Schock now on FBI radar

Chuck Goudie Image
Saturday, March 21, 2015
Aaron Schock now on FBI radar
The Justice Department has launched a formal criminal investigation into the office and campaign expenses of resigning Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock.

WASHINGTON (WLS) -- Federal agents and U.S. prosecutors have begun serving subpoenas in a criminal investigation of outgoing Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Peoria) the I-Team has learned. The FBI is delivering subpoenas for testimony in both Illinois and in Washington, according to sources familiar with the newly organized investigation.

"He could be looking at no fewer than five federal offenses," said former federal prosecutor Gil Soffer, now a legal consultant to ABC7 News.

Congressman Schock, 33, an up and coming star in the Republican party, has fallen from the political cosmos in a matter of weeks.

Schock resigned this week, effective March 31, thereby short-circuiting a looming investigation by a House ethics panel.

As quickly as the congressional investigation faded with Schock's resignation, federal law enforcement sources have said that a grand jury was being empaneled to consider possible criminal evidence against the downstate politician. The grand jury, seated in Springfield, is expected to hear from Schock's congressional and campaign staffers as well as donors - many of whom are said to be receiving subpoenas to appear in April.

The photogenic congressman, who has posed in magazines showing off his six-pack abs-"could be looking at embezzlement of federal funds," said Soffer, who prosecuted federal corruption cases in Chicago.

"He could be looking at false statements made to the federal election commission; he could even be looking at tax evasion if he got the benefit of funds that didn't belong to him and he didn't declare them," Soffer siad.

IRS Criminal Division investigators are among the federal authorities now looking into Schock's activities, along with agents from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, according to law enforcement sources.

The timeline of Schock's demise is so short that it is difficult to know what came first: news of his being targeted by government investigators or his resignation on Tuesday. Federal agents are looking at numerous facets of Rep. Schock's conduct, including his use of chartered jets for personal travel, his entertainment expenses, real estate transactions and campaign record-keeping.

Even before Schock's D.C. office - decorated like TV's "Downton Abbey" - became a focus of nationwide attention, he was already under investigation by the House Ethics Committee. That office was looking into whether Schock improperly accepted campaign contributions in excess of $5,000 per donor, in violation of federal law, House rules, and standards of conduct. Schock claims to have paid back all the government reimbursement he received during his six-year career in Washington.

Repayment doesn't let him off the hook, according to legal experts. Nor should it, says Illinois' senior U.S. senator.

"If you have violated the public trust, if you have misused public funds, saying 'I'll pay them back,' it doesn't get you off," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) told the I-Team at a downtown Chicago appearance on Friday. "I don't know what is going to happen in his case. The fact (that) he resigns tells us how serious it is."

Except for the release of his resignation statement, Mr. Schock has been incommunicado this week. He has not returned to Congress for any votes, despite still receiving a salary from taxpayers. In his statement on Tuesday, Schock said that he conducted himself with high standards while representing Illinois' 18th District.

Here are some of the questions that authorities want to answer:

-Were there political favors promised or delivered to Schock campaign donors who allowed the congressman to fly on their airplanes on at least a dozen occasions, totaling more than $40,000, since 2011?

-Did Schock hire a donor's wife to redecorate his D.C. office to look like the popular drama "Downton Abbey" and how was the $40,000 job financed?

-What were the circumstances of the congressman's home sale in Peoria to a donor, at a price said to be far above the market value?

-How did Schock fund a professional photographer who documented his life on social media as he traveled the world?

-What arrangement was made with a political action committee affiliated with Schock to pay a massage parlor nearly $1,500 for a fundraising event?

-Were taxpayer or campaign funds used by Schock to attend a sold-out Katy Perry concert last June in Washington, D.C., with all of his office interns?

-Was it illegal for Schock to use taxpayer funds for a plane trip from Peoria to Chicago last November to attend a Chicago Bears game?

-Why did Schock submit expenses to the government for 170,000 miles he says he drove over a period of about four years on his personal SUV, when that vehicle only had a total of 80,000 miles on it?

-Was there fraud or deception in Schock's reimbursement from his campaign fund for personal gifts and trinkets, including a $5,000 replica of President Barack Obama's podium, electronic equipment, expensive meals and foreign travel, including the use of first class accommodations?