Federal prosecutors have agreed to drop charges against Aaron Schock — if he agrees to pay back money owed to the Internal Revenue Service and his campaign fund.
The surprise deal — announced at a Wednesday hearing in Chicago and approved by U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly — is that prosecutors will drop felony counts if the former Illinois congressman pays the IRS $42,000 and his congressional campaign fund $68,000, reports the Chicago Tribune.
The deal requires Schock's campaign committee to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failure to report expenses. It is also contingent on Schock staying free of further legal trouble.
The former Illinois congressman has been fighting corruption charges since November 2016, when he was indicted by a federal grand jury for diverting government and campaign funds to his personal use.
Schock allegedly used these funds for expenditures like mileage reimbursements, interior decorating of his Washington office in the style of the TV show Downton Abbey, and a charter flight to a sports game in Chicago.
He is also accused of filing false income tax returns and using fake statements and invoices to cover up his fraud. The Republican politician resigned in March 2015 in the wake of scrutiny of his alleged misuse.
Schock, 37, released a statement praising the deal but questioning the length of time it took to be offered. “It should not have taken four years, two U.S. attorney offices, three judges and millions of dollars in costs to the taxpayers and myself to come to this conclusion," Schock said.
“I have 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.”
While in office, which he entered in 2009, Schock was a vocal opponent of LGBTQ equality. He received a 0 percent rating from the Human Rights Campaign in his first term, during which he voted against including sexual orientation in federal hate-crimes legislation and opposed efforts to repeal of the military's ban on out LGB service members known as "don't ask, don't tell." He was also a vocal critic of the Obama administration's decision to stop defending the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in February 2011.
However, rumors of Schock's sexuality have followed him throughout his political career. In 2014, gay journalist Itay Hod wrote a scathing Facebook post asking why it was not acceptable to out antigay politicians who are in the closet, never directly mentioning Schock, but linking to a piece on out blogger John Aravosis's site titled "7 Gayest Aaron Schock Instagram Posts of 2013."
The rumors flared up again after reports that Schock failed to formally disclose the presence of a male photographer who accompanied him on a business trip to India. The photographer, with whom Schock had reportedly worked in the past, did not appear on the former congressman's payroll until the month after the two men returned from India.
In mid-2017, lawyers for Schock claimed federal investigators asked inappropriate questions during their probe, including whether he’s gay. The “prosecutor and agents have dug into every aspect of Mr. Schock’s life by any means necessary. No topic has been off limits. The federal government has even delved, repeatedly, into the most intimate details of his life, including repeated inquiries to witnesses into who he has slept with and whether he is gay,” Schock’s legal team said in a memo.