February 19, 2019 / 2:49 PM / 6 months ago

U.S. top court rejects ex-congressman's appeal in spending scandal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a bid by Republican former congressman Aaron Schock, who resigned in 2015 amid questions about spending on his lavish “Downton Abbey”-inspired Washington office, to escape charges accusing him of defauding the government while a member of the House of Representatives.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Republican lawmakers Cynthia Lummis (in red) and Aaron Schock (wearing a garland) arrive at the Gandhi Ashram in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad March 28, 2013. REUTERS/Amit Dave/File Photo

The justices declined to hear Schock’s appeal of a lower court’s refusal to throw out an indictment against the 37-year-old former lawmaker from Illinois after he argued the charges violated U.S. constitutional protections for members of Congress.

Schock is scheduled to go on trial in June on charges including wire fraud, theft of government funds and filing false federal income tax returns.

Schock, elected to the House in 2008 at age 27, drew attention by posting photos on social media of his travels around the world. He was featured shirtless on the cover of Men’s Health magazine in 2011, touted as “America’s Fittest Congressman!”

His expenditures came under scrutiny after a Washington Post report about lavish decorations in his Capitol Hill office based on the popular PBS period melodrama “Downton Abbey.” He resigned in 2015.

A grand jury issued a 24-count indictment in 2016 accusing him of defrauding the federal government and campaign committees. Two counts were later dismissed by a judge in Springfield, Illinois.

According to the indictment, Schock enriched himself by submitting false reimbursement claims worth tens of thousands of dollars related to travel, camera equipment, furniture and decorations, and other purchases.

The indictment noted that Schock’s office redecoration included the purchase of a $5,000 chandelier and that decorating expenses are reimbursable only if they are of “nominal value.”

Schock sought to get the indictment dismissed, arguing that prosecutors exceeded their authority in charging him and citing the Constitution’s protections for lawmakers’ independence that allow Congress to make its own rules and bars prosecution for conduct in the legislative role.

The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Schock’s arguments in May 2018. That court found that the charges did not relate to “speeches, debates, or any other part of the legislative process” and that protections relating to the Constitution’s separation of powers among the three branches of the U.S. government did not offer “a personal immunity from prosecution or trial.”

Schock urged the high court to take the case, suggesting that the threat to the separation of powers was significant. He also said the House’s reimbursement rules were ambiguous.

Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham

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