CHICAGO — After four years of legal twists and turns that rose to the level of either high comedy or incredible drama, the public corruption case of former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock is over.
The Peoria Republican, who resigned from office four years ago amid allegations of fiscal misconduct, entered a plea in a downtown Chicago courtroom on behalf of his campaign committee to a Federal Election Commission violation for inadequately keeping paperwork. Schock himself didn't plead to anything. The committee, as an entity, was found in violation.
To be dropped were what's left of nearly two dozen allegations against him claiming years of criminal activity.
His plea isn't typical for federal court. Instead of a conviction, Schock entered a program known as "pretrial diversion."
A $25,000 fine was levied and he faces six months of supervision under the program, during which he must cooperate with the rest of the terms of the deal. Schock, 37, must repay his main campaign committee and the IRS money as outlined in the agreement.
Schock also acknowledged erring in his responsibility to accurately report expenses — including for mileage reimbursement — for his campaign committees. Three of those committees will collectively receive $67,956 according to the deal. He also stated in the document that he didn't report income from the resale of some tickets, including to the World Series and Super Bowl, on his tax returns to the tune of $42,375. Both were items prosecutors had raised during the criminal case.
Pretrial diversion is similar to the alternative court programs in both Peoria and Tazewell counties. The program allows a person, such as Schock, to have an "alternative to prosecution." Basically, follow the rules of probation, abide by a set of restrictions and keep your nose clean for the set period of time and the conviction will get wiped from record.
According to the U.S. Justice Department's website, a person "must acknowledge responsibility for his or her behavior, but is not asked to admit guilt. The period of supervision is not to exceed 18 months, but may be reduced."
Schock said he was pleased at the result and that he was "ready to put this behind me and move forward."
In a statement, he said that he had "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. ... The outcome validates this case should have never been started in the first place."
He said he looked forward to moving "forward with my professional and personal life."
He's been splitting his time between Illinois and the West Coast, where he has worked on real estate matters, some of which have also taken him overseas.
Schock also credited the move last fall to the Chicago-based Northern District of Illinois with helping resolve the case. It had been with prosecutors in the Springfield-based Central District of Illinois when charges were filed, and Schock and his legal team had maintained from the start that it was mishandled there.
"I continue to ask where was the oversight and supervision when my indictment was initiated," he said. "It should not have taken four years, two U.S. attorney's offices, three judges and millions of dollars in costs to the taxpayers and myself to come to this conclusion. Justice wielded irresponsibly is wrong and it puts our constitutional rights at risk. This case should have never gone this far or this long."
Reaction from local officials also noted the drawn-out nature of the case federal officials had tried to build.
"This has been a long, expensive legal process for Aaron and this misdemeanor plea will allow him to move on with his life, I wish him well,” Schock's successor, U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood said in a statement.
The entire agreement Wednesday, it seems, came together rather quickly. The hearing was set only on Monday, bumping up by two days an expected hearing Friday morning. Two weeks ago, Judge Matthew Kennelly ruled he would not give either side additional time and would hold firm to a trial setting this summer.
And just last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Schock's legal challenge to his ongoing public corruption case, which stopped one of the Peoria Republican’s many attempts to halt his case, which began almost four years.
In a two-page order, Justice Sonia Sotomayor concurred with a ruling last spring by an Urbana-based judge who held the charges could stand despite Team Schock’s vehement objections. That said, the justice left the door open for another challenge on the local level.
Schock was indicted in November 2016 on charges of wire fraud, mail fraud, making false statements, filing a false tax return, theft of government funds and falsification of Federal Election Commission filings. The charges alleged a course of conduct that began when Schock was first elected to Congress in 2008 and continued until October 2015, about six months after he resigned from office.
The case has seen many twists and turns over the years as the two sides engaged in a heated, and often public legal cage match involve the production of additional documents the government was seeking as part of its grand jury investigation. Typically grand jury proceedings and accompanying matters are secret, with investigations not even being confirmed by prosecutors.
Since then, two judges have been replaced. Urbana-based U.S. District Judge Colin Bruce by the Chicago-based Kennelly after Bruce’s inappropriate communications with a paralegal from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Springfield on a separate case. And then the Justice Department removed the entire matter from federal prosecutors in Springfield and assigned the Chicago office to the case.
Andy Kravetz can be reached at 686-3283 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @andykravetz. Chris Kaergard can be reached at 686-3255 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard.