Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Aaron Schock resigns after new questions about mileage expenses

Aaron Schock resigns after new questions about mileage expenses

UNITED STATES - JULY 16: Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., speaks to the media following the Republicans' 'America Speaking Out' forum on job creation on Friday, July 16, 2010. (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call via Getty Images)

Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock resigned Tuesday, less than 12 hours after POLITICO raised questions about tens of thousands of dollars in mileage reimbursements he received for his personal vehicle.
Schock billed the federal government and his campaign for logging roughly 170,000 miles on his personal car from January 2010 through July 2014. But when he sold that Chevrolet Tahoe in July 2014, it had roughly 80,000 miles on the odometer, according to public records obtained by POLITICO under Illinois open records laws. The documents, in other words, indicate he was reimbursed for 90,000 miles more than his car was driven.
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The discrepancy added to a growing wave of ethical and legal problems for the 33-year-old politician.
“[T]he constant questions over the last six weeks have proven a great distraction that has made it too difficult for me to serve the people of the 18th District with the high standards that they deserve and which I have set for myself,” Schock said in a surprise statement on Tuesday. “I have always sought to do what’s best for my constituents, and I thank them for the opportunity to serve.”
Later Tuesday, a spokesman for Schock added, “In an effort to remove any questions and out of an abundance of caution, Congressman Schock has reimbursed all monies received for official mileage since his election to Congress.”

The congressman’s vehicle history was pieced together from dozens of pages of Illinois vehicle records.
When Schock transferred the SUV to an Illinois dealership in 2014, it had 81,860 miles on the odometer, documents show. However, from January 2010 to the end of July 2014, he billed the federal government for 123,131 miles on his personal vehicle. During the same period, the Republican billed his “Schock for Congress” campaign account and GOP Generation Y Fund, his leadership political action committee, for an additional 49,388 miles.
Altogether, Schock sought reimbursement for 172,520 miles on his car, despite the fact that he signed documents that certified the vehicle traveled less than half that distance.
Schock had no other vehicles registered in his name at the time, according to state public records. Multiple sources familiar with his office operations say he only drove the Tahoe during this period.
In November 2009, less than a year after Schock took his seat in Congress, the lawmaker bought the 2010 Tahoe from Green Chevrolet in Peoria. The dealership is owned by Jeff Green, a contributor to Schock who has flown the congressman around his district in his airplane and helicopter.
When Schock purchased the new car, it had four miles on it, according to publicly available automobile transaction documents.
On July 19, 2014, Schock transferred the car back to Green Chevrolet with 81,860 miles on it, according to a transfer document Schock signed.
On that same day in 2014, Schock bought a black 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe with 10 miles on it. Schock’s campaign spent nearly $75,000 on the car, according to campaign filings, but the congressman registered the car in his own name. The SUV sports congressional license plates with the number “18” — the number of Schock’s congressional district.
Between 2010 and 2014, the government mileage reimbursement requests were filed by Schock on a near-monthly basis. Members of Congress and staffers are permitted to bill the government and campaign for use of a personal vehicle, and, generally speaking, do not have to keep logs to record the miles they drive.
When asked about the mileage several weeks ago, Schock’s office said the congressman spends a lot of time in automobiles and chartering private jets between events in his central Illinois district. His office also raised the possibility that staffers were driving his vehicle and weren’t sure if it was permissible under the rules.
During the past month, Schock repaid the government $40,000 after spending money from his official office budget to redecorate his office to resemble the set of PBS’s “Downton Abbey,” an English historical drama. He also reimbursed taxpayers more than $1,200 after using his office account to pay to fly on a private plane to a Chicago Bears football game.
Separately, on a campaign-finance document, Schock labeled the cost of a November flight on a private plane as a software purchase. He has failed to report trips abroad, as required. And he held a fundraiser at a golf course without reporting paying for its use.
In an interview with POLITICO last week in Peoria, Schock could not say with certainty that he had not broken the law.
“I certainly hope not,” Schock said. The Illinois Republican added that he was not an attorney, and therefore could not know whether he broke the law or ethics rules. Schock also declined to directly answer whether he had accepted improper gifts as a member of Congress.
News reports by POLITICO and the Chicago Sun-Times raised a series of questions about Schock’s spending and record-keeping. The Office of Congressional Ethics opened an investigation of the lawmaker on Feb. 28 and has begun contacting his associates about appearing before the independent panel behind closed doors.
The OCE probe —and any potential Ethics Committee investigation — will disappear with Schock’s resignation. However, federal law enforcement could still look into Schock’s actions. He has two attorneys, former Federal Election Commission Commissioner Don McGahn and criminal defense attorney William McGinley, both of Jones Day. Ron Bonjean and Brian Walsh, two longtime GOP communications aides, are handling his press strategy.
Schock will remain in Congress until March 31.

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