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7th Circuit refuses to dismiss congressman’s corruption charges

May 31, 2018

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago refused to dismiss corruption charges against former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, saying Wednesday that it can’t legally assess whether his prosecution violated constitutional separation-of-powers clauses until after his trial.

The three-judge panel wrote in a relatively short, 10-page ruling that appellate courts don’t have the authority to answer such questions before a trial actually takes place and a verdict is rendered.

Schock, a 36-year-old Republican from Peoria, Illinois, gained notoriety for redecorating his office in the style of the “Downton Abbey” TV series. He resigned in 2015 and was indicted the next year on corruption charges, including that he illegally sought reimbursement for a $5,000 chandelier.

The core argument in his pretrial appeal was that prosecutors based charges on ambiguous rules the House set for itself. Several courts have agreed that the Constitution bars executive-branch prosecutors from charging legislators based on unclear congressional rules.

In a brief Wednesday statement, Schock’s lawyer, George Terwilliger, said he was disappointed by the ruling and that Schock’s legal team was evaluating its appeal options.

“As we continue to contend in court, the charges are the result of a determination to indict in spite of the true facts, not because of them,” he said.

The district court judge in Urbana, Illinois, U.S. District Judge Colin Bruce, last year did throw out two of the original 24 counts and agreed to delay Schock’s trial on the 22 remaining counts until the 7th Circuit appeal played out. Now that it has, Bruce could set a trial date soon.

During oral arguments before the 7th Circuit in April, defense attorney Benjamin Hatch said the U.S. attorney’s office in Springfield was aiming to become the first to imprison a former member of Congress based on “ambiguous” House rules.

Prosecutors countered that they weren’t relying heavily on House rules and at trial would refer to some merely as a way to show criminal intent. They also note that several charges Schock faces have nothing to do with House rules, including ones alleging he falsified tax returns.

Schock has pleaded not guilty to all counts, which include wire fraud and falsification of election commission filings. A conviction on just one count of wire fraud carries a maximum 20-year prison term.

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