CHICAGO – The indictment of a 35-year-old disgraced former Republican congressman jolted residents of his central Illinois district, shaken by prosecutors’ claims that Aaron Schock illegally dipped into campaign and government coffers to subsidize a lavish lifestyle, including his Capitol Hill office done up in the style of "Downton Abbey."
Perhaps more stunning was an allegation found on page 34 of the charging document: Schock’s apparent willingness to pocket thousands of constituents’ dollars by arranging annual Washington tours combined with meet-and-greets.
"I know that some people feel very hurt, angered and betrayed," said Quincy insurance agent Jack Freiburg, who attended such an event in 2014.
State political observers say the alleged scheme stands out. House rules require excess fees from such visits be returned to constituents or donated to charity, according to the indictment.
The three-day extravaganza attended by Freiburg and about 50 others in July 2014 included bus rides to the National Zoo and a reception at the Japanese ambassador’s residence. Freiburg paid a $785 "Fly-in Conference Fee" to Schock’s office – meant to cover meals, transportation and other hosting costs – on top of $2,000 to $3,000 for a plane ticket, hotel room and other expenses.
Schock secretly kept at least $11,000 from that event, the indictment said.
Prosecutors say in 2011, Schock set up a Florida bank account under the name of a fictitious company, "Global Travel International," and instructed staff to deposit that year’s fly-fee money into it. He allegedly kept at least $4,482 from the 2011 fly-in.
Schock, who resigned last year as scrutiny of his spending intensified, issued a statement Nov. 10 responding to the charges of wire fraud, theft of government funds and other things, saying "we might have made errors" but that "no one intended to break any law."
A spokesman for Schock and his legal team, Mark Hubbard, said "that funds received for the events were used for that purpose," adding that the fly-ins were always widely praised by participants. He said Schock’s understanding was that "small amounts" of funds that were left over "could be used for future events."