Jim Dey: Charge of government misconduct goes beyond sex issue

Jim Dey: Charge of government misconduct goes beyond sex issue

A motion to dismiss the corruption case against him filed by former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock drew considerable media attention because of allegations that investigators demonstrated prejudice against him through repeated inquiries about his sexuality.

Schock said authorities made a series of unsuccessful efforts to find "evidence" that he is a homosexual, something he has long denied.

Drawing less attention in the 83-page motion were other allegations that Schock made about prosecutorial misconduct that he said reflected the government's desire to first target him for indictment and worry about the details later.

George Terwilliger, a former high ranking official in the U.S. Justice Department, wrote that "no topic has been off limits."

Over a 20-month investigation and "through the use of two federal grand juries, the (U.S. Attorney's Office). ... investigated Mr. Schock's personal, political and professional life, from business activities he conducted as a teenager through his present, post-congressional employment," the defense motion states.

The 36-year-old Schock, a one-time up-and-coming member of the U.S. House of Representatives, was indicted in November 2016, on a variety of charges related to the alleged misuse of more than $100,000 in both public and campaign funds. He's tentatively scheduled to go to trial in January at the U.S. Courthouse in Urbana, although the trial already has been delayed once and may be again.

A Peoria resident, Schock announced his resignation from the U.S. House of Representatives in March 2015, just five months after his election to a third term. His resignation followed a news story that drew national news attention by reporting that Schock had redecorated his office in a theme from "Downton Abbey," a PBS drama about Great Britain in the early 1900s. He's denied that, too.

The "Downton Abbey" episode was quickly followed by multiple news stories, the original source of which has never been disclosed, from various outlets that raised questions about Schock's mileage reimbursements and business practices. They suggested Schock enriched himself by submitting reimbursement requests for miles he had never driven.

The indictment picks up on that theme, charging that Schock defrauded the government and his campaign committees on mileage issues and other personal purchases. One charge alleged that he bought sports tickets with campaign funds, re-sold them and kept the proceeds.

Schock has acknowledged that he and his staff mishandled some financial issues but denies any intent to improperly enrich himself. He charges that authorities repeatedly impugned his character to witnesses and before the grand jury in a way to create the impression that Schock "was a bad guy who needed to be 'got.'"

He charges that authorities "abused and intimidated witnesses, particularly those providing exculpatory evidence," "misrepresented facts and law in a manner that falsely impugned" Schock's "conduct and character," "failed to disclose or omitted exculpatory or impeachment evidence," and harassed Schock "through continued investigation post-indictment. ...of Mr. Schock's current employer and business partners."

While continuing to reside in Peoria, Schock now is involved that real-estate ventures that require considerable travel, including regular trips to China. The motion charges that the cumulative effect of the alleged prosecutorial misconduct created an "irreversible embedded false impression about Mr. Schock's conduct and character in the minds of key witnesses" in a way that "prejudices any future testimony at trial."

The motion also alleges that the grand jury's exposure to a stream of negative, false and misleading statements about Schock affected their personal attitudes. The motion includes an exchange between a grand juror and a IRS agent that it contends demonstrates that claim.

A grand juror expressed concern the body might not have sufficient evidence to return an indictment and wondered if there was another means of dealing with Schock.

"So if — you know, like Al Capone, if we don't get him, then the IRS can take him down?" the grand juror asked.

"Yes," replied IRS Agent James Peacock.

The motion seeks a dismissal of the indictment or, alternatively, a prohibition against two key government witnesses from testifying. They are Karen Haney, the political director of a Schock campaign committee, and Sarah Rogers, an employee in Schock's Washington office who handled mileage reimbursement issues.

U.S. Judge Colin Bruce is presiding over the case. Before being appointed to the bench, he was a longtime federal prosecutor in the same office as Tim Bass, the assistant U.S. Attorney that Schock's lawyers allege engaged in inappropriate conduct that poisoned the prosecution case.

Bass, who is based in Springfield, has a reputation as an aggressive prosecutor. He has handled a wide variety of criminal and corruption cases, including a wide-ranging conspiracy involving the theft of public funds from recipients of state grants.

The defense acknowledged its dismissal request is an "extraordinary remedy" but asserted "this is an extraordinary case."

Bass "did not discover a crime and attempt to determine who committed it. He picked Aaron Schock and set out to pin an offense on him," the motion states.

The lengthy indictment outlines a wide variety of financial transactions in which the government charges that Schock took financial advantage of taxpayers and campaign donors.

Some of those transactions involved the use of campaign funds to finance entertainment at fund-raising events. Politicians routinely purchase sports tickets for fund-raising events.

For example, in 2014, U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin's campaign committee bought over $100,000 in National Hockey League tickets for fundraisers.

A dispute about Schock's purchase of ski-lift tickets for a fundraiser resulted in a lengthy exchange between Bass and campaign director Haney:

"...Mr. Bass asked how a payment for ski lift tickets would not be personal. Ms. Haney responded that it would not be personal if it was connected to a fund-raiser. Even though Ms. Haney was legally correct that lift tickets purchased in connection with a fund-raiser held at a ski resortare perfectly permissible, Mr. Bass falsely implied that it was illegal," the defense motion states, noting that Bass stated before the grand jury that Haney's testimony was motivated by "loyalty" to Schock.

Although there is no mention of ski-lift tickets in the indictment, one charge against Schock stems from a $5,621 payment to him in connection with his sale of his personal vehicle and his campaign committee's purchase of another vehicle from a Peoria dealership run by a Schock friend. The indictment alleges Schock gained the $5,621 by "caus(ing) the campaign to pay off the loan."

But dealership owner Jeff Green testified that the payment was the result of an error made in the dealership's business office.

"When the prosecutor asked finance manager Dave Angevine before the grand jury, why he kept 'talking about what could have, should have or might have happened,' Mr. Angevine responded: 'Part of it is I feel bad because I know I added the payoff,'" the motion states. "Despite all this, the government persists in charging Mr. Schock with causing this transaction" even though there is no evidence "Mr. Schock had ever realized that a mistake had been made."

Terwilliger speculated the "government's newfound theory was that Mr. Schock never told anyone it had been a mistake."

The indictment is chock full of detailed allegations that raise questions about Schock's approach to spending public and campaign funds. At the same time, the defense motion offers a highly detailed response that alleges authorities either misunderstood or misrepresented details of those transactions in a manner that put them in a criminal light.

Of course, a regular tool in the defense lawyer's tool box is to impugn investigative methods as a means of challenging damning evidence. That's what the Schock defense is doing here, and the length and breadth of the defense motion reveals it has a lot to work with.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.

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Mr Dreamy wrote on August 13, 2017 at 2:08 pm

So, he is an elected crook who used his office and staff to make money on the side. Sort of like a favorite appellate court judge we all know, eh?