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The mole was digging deep, and the feds wanted to know what he had found.

"Do you have the receipt or copy of the receipt Aaron's attorney left when he returned documents to the office?'" federal postal inspector Shari Rowe asked in a March 2015 text.

"Yes. There were lots of them for individual boxes," the mole replied.

"OK, so they are easily accessible to you, then?" Rowe asked.

"Yes," came the response.

"Ok, thank you," Rowe replied.

Rowe quickly followed up with another inquiry.

"Hi, sorry to bother you again. Is it possible for you to send us those receipts?"

"Sure. Email, OK?" the mole said.

Then, it was the mole's turn to text Rowe with an exciting development.

"Call me. I have something way better for you," he said.

The mole, also known as a confidential informant — CI —was Bryan Rudolph, the manager for former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock's Peoria office. Working with federal investigators on a criminal investigation of his boss, Rudolph provided voluminous office records and emails, tape-recorded conversations with co-workers in which he sought to elicit incriminating information and otherwise served as a pipeline for investigators deep into the heart of Schock's congressional office.

The 35-year-old Schock, once considered a potential candidate for higher office, resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives on March 17, 2015.

He was indicted on a variety of charges in November 2016, including theft of government funds and income tax evasion, and faces a trial July 10 at the federal courthouse in Urbana.

Rudolph is expected to be among the witnesses called by federal prosecutors.

The issue before U.S. Judge Colin Bruce is whether Rudolph and his investigative overseers were too zealous in their pursuit of Schock.

Schock's Washington lawyers recently filed extensive legal motions demanding more information about Rudolph's working relationship with federal authorities. The government has until April 18 to file its response.

Schock lawyers allege that Rudolph's activities violated their client's constitutional rights and could lay the groundwork for dismissal of the case because of government misconduct or suppression of evidence improperly seized.

"In spite of these efforts, there is no indication that the government's use of the CI produced the 'smoking gun' it no doubt sought by using him. The government, however, cannot run away that what was produced: a trail of improper — if not outright illegal — acts by the CI that remain not fully known to the def- ense in this case," George Terwilliger, a Schock lawyer, wrote in a motion asking Judge Bruce to order the government to disclose additional documents.

Take the receipt Agent Rowe asked Rudolph to retrieve. It was an "inventory" of Schock office documents his lawyers deemed relevant to his defense, in other words "confidential" lawyer-client work-product. In open court, according to the defense motion, prosecutors denied they were after the confidential document, merely wanting to know whether the documents examined by the defense had been returned to Schock's office.

But the exchange between Inspector Rowe and Rudolph was directly at odds with what the government's lawyer said in court, "chilling in its brazenness," the defense motion states.

The defense is inquiring about that and much more.

Frankly, it's hard to imagine the defense winning a dismissal of the case against Schock. The misconduct allegations are broad, ranging from misrepresentation of mileage reimbursement to misappropriation of funds from multiple campaign committees.

But the misconduct allegations against the government also are broad. The defense claims that Rudolph stole documents from Schock's office, improperly searched the desks of his colleagues, participated in meetings his colleagues held with their lawyer and sought "to deliberately elicit attorney-client privileged" information in violation of Schock's Fourth (illegal search and seizure) and Fifth (right against self-incrimination) Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Although Rudolph is a private individual, the government is stuck with the consequences if Judge Bruce finds improprieties because he was acting as a government agent. It's settled law that the government is barred from using a third party to engage in actions forbidden to the government.

The defense asserts investigators met "almost daily" with Rudolph, equipped him with recording devices and debriefed him after his meetings with colleagues.

Rudolph's tape-recorded inquiries portray him as a nervous staff member concerned about the pending investigation. In reality, Rudolph was repeatedly seeking damaging information about Schock.

"Is (Schock) guilty of anything? Or do you think this is 100 percent unfair?" he asked Schock's chief of staff Dayne LaHood.

"I don't know. I don't know, I mean, you heard (defense lawyer Bill Coffield), we're not supposed to talk about it," LaHood replied.

"Yeah," Rudolph responds.

Although no transcript is provided, the motion states that Rudolph once "approached Mr. Schock alone and specifically asked him to explain the mileage issue."

The defense motion states the government intends to use Rudolph tape-recordings at trial, but not necessarily all the materials Rudolph retrieved on its behalf. Still, the defense is suspicious the government has compromised Schock's right to a fair trial because it has benefitted from a vast trove of improperly obtained material.

"As with the other documents that (Rudolph) illegally seized, the government tacitly acknowledged the impropriety of its conduct by noting in a Feb. 1, 2017, letter to Mr. Schock that the government claimed it had not reviewed the materials, except as 'to their general nature' — whatever that means," the defense motion states.

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.

Opinions Editor

Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.