Former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock pleaded not guilty Monday afternoon to two dozen federal charges alleging he misused public money, lied about it and failed to file correct tax returns.
During a 45-minute hearing that focused mostly on conditions for his bond, Schock, 35, said little except “Yes, your honor” or “No, your honor” to several questions by U.S. District Judge Sue Myerscough, who will be presiding over the case.
After the hearing, Schock spoke to a group of reporters outside the federal courthouse.
“I look forward to all the facts coming out in this case. I have full confidence in my legal team, full confidence in the good people of this community and I am confident that in the end, justice will prevail,” said the Peoria Republican in a very brief statement. Neither he nor his two attorneys took any questions during their 30-second statement.
The judge set a Feb. 7 trial date to comply with the federal Speedy Trial Act but it’s a setting in name only. Both prosecutors and Schock’s attorneys admitted there was little chance the case would go before a jury that day. In fact, Christina M. Egan, a Chicago-based attorney, asked for a date in August, saying she expected reams of documents from the government regarding her client.
Prosecutors have said they believe the trial could last up to six weeks and feature about 100 or so witnesses. If convicted of all counts, Schock could face up to 20 years behind bars. The prosecutors, as they have repeatedly in the past, declined to comment on the case.
On Nov. 10, a federal grand jury returned a 24-count bill of indictment against Schock. The charges allege 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.
Schock was a rising star in the Republican Party until attention was focused on his office decorations. That blossomed into wide criticism about his spending and financial dealings. He’s denied all allegations and says government prosecutors are out to get him for political reasons.
Schock faces 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. In all, it’s alleged that he stole more than $100,000 from the government and his campaign committees.
Among the bond conditions Myerscough set, Schock will be allowed to travel overseas for work purposes but must surrender his passport upon each return to the United States. He is restricted from spending funds from any of his campaign accounts — he still has several — without prior approval from the court, and must surrender his Firearm Owner’s Identification card.
Myerscough inquired about three campaign accounts that Schock had. The Schock for Congress account has $290,000 in it while the Schock Victory Committee account has $16,000. The GOP Generation Y Fund account has $73,000 left.
Federal prosecutors were worried Schock is a flight risk, a notion at which Jeff Lang, Schock’s other attorney at the hearing and who himself was a former U.S. attorney, bristled.
Schock’s job working with a development firm that does large hospitality projects takes him overseas often as he does business in China and elsewhere. Prosecutors worry he might flee and sought conditions that would restrict his travel to only that which is work-related.
“He certainly is not going to throw his life away at 35 by fleeing,” Lang said.
In the end, however, the two sides agreed Schock would post his interest in a Peoria warehouse that he owns as collateral to insure he doesn’t flee while overseas or even while in the United States. Myerscough said she’d allow some hearings to be done via video-conferencing which would allow Schock and his attorneys — none of whom are from Springfield — to participate without having to travel there. Schock and his team filed a motion to move the trial to Peoria, citing the travel to Springfield as overly burdensome. The motion was denied.
Schock must spend most of his time in Peoria unless he has prior approval from the probation office to travel.