CHICAGO (Reuters) - A former U.S. representative whose lavish office in Washington raised questions about use of taxpayer dollars was indicted on Thursday on charges of defrauding the federal government and campaign committees and attempting to cover it up, according to court documents.
Aaron Schock, a 35-year-old former Republican congressman from Illinois, was indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice on 24 counts, including wire fraud, theft of government funds and filing false federal income tax returns. Schock maintained his innocence on Thursday before the indictment was announced.
“Neither I nor anyone else intentionally did anything wrong,” he said in a statement. “As I have said before, we might have made errors among a few of the thousands and thousands of financial transactions we conducted, but they were honest mistakes – no one intended to break any law.”
Schock’s position in public office did not put him above the law, the Department of Justice said.
“These charges allege that Mr. Schock deliberately and repeatedly violated federal law, to his personal and financial advantage,” Jim Lewis, U.S. attorney for the Central District of Illinois, said in a statement on Thursday.
“Mr. Schock held public office at the time of the alleged offenses, but public office does not exempt him or anyone else from accountability for alleged intentional misuse of public funds and campaign funds.”
Schock, elected to the, U.S. House of Representatives in 2008 at the age of 27, gained a following for posting flashy photos on social media of himself traveling around the world.
But he was hounded with questions after The Washington Post reported last year about lavish decorations in his Capitol Hill office based on the PBS period melodrama “Downton Abbey.”
Although staff told the Post that the interior design work had been done for free, the story prompted more investigations into Schock’s spending habits, with several media outlets reporting he failed to disclose some expenditures and had to repay others after improperly using taxpayer funds.
On Thursday, Schock said before the indictment that his faith in the Justice Department had been eroded.
“This indictment will look bad, but underneath it is just made-up allegations of criminal activity arising from unintentional administrative errors,” George Terwilliger III, Schock’s attorney, said in a statement prior to the indictment.
A summons will be issued to Schock by the U.S. Clerk of the Court for an arraignment date in Springfield, Illinois.
Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago and Julia Harte in Washington; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Jonathan Oatis