CHICAGO (AP) - Federal prosecutors agreed Wednesday to drop all felony corruption charges against former Rep. Aaron Schock if he pays tens of thousands to the IRS and campaign committees, a dramatic reversal the Illinois Republican said proved he was targeted by a prosecutor looking for "stardom."
Schock, a one-time rising GOP star, resigned from Congress in 2015 amid scrutiny of his spending, including decorating his office in the style of the "Downton Abbey" TV series. He faced up to 20 years in prison when he was indicted a year later on two dozen counts, including wire fraud and falsification of election commission filings. He was set to go to trial in June.
But during a court hearing in Chicago, prosecutors said they will drop the charges within six months if Schock holds up his part of the agreement.
The 37-year-old said he will repay his three campaign committees nearly $68,000 and work with the Internal Revenue Service to determine how much he owes in taxes for income he didn't report between 2010 and 2015.
Schock acknowledged he made about $42,000 by reselling for a profit Super Bowl and World Series tickets he obtained at face value, and that he didn't report it as income. He also said he submitted mileage reimbursements without documentation, and for more mileage than he likely drove.
"There's a difference between mistakes and crimes, and I've said from the beginning that there was never intent by me or my staff to commit crimes," Schock told reporters after the hearing. He said poor record-keeping occurred, in part, "because I was working my tail off" representing a large congressional district that includes more than 200 communities.
The case originally was filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of Illinois in Springfield, but the Justice Department transferred it to northern Illinois last year. Joseph Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for the northern district in Chicago, said the office "conducted a thorough review of the case before proceeding" with the agreement.
Schock and his attorney praised the Chicago office for conducting an objective review.
"We felt all along that if some reasonable prosecutor would sit down and objectively review the facts here they could come to the same conclusions or almost the same conclusions that we have about the case," defense attorney George Terwilliger said.
"This was a case that was the wrong case brought for the wrong reasons from the get-go," he said. "It began as a bang. That bang turned out to be a blank. Now it's ending with a whimper."
Schock said he has "no doubt" he was targeted by the Springfield office. He said the lead prosecutor was actively seeking the position of U.S. attorney at the time.
"It became very obvious too all of us that he saw me as his ticket to stardom," Schock said.
Sharon Paul, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Springfield, declined to comment Wednesday.
Prosecutors filed one misdemeanor count against one of Schock's campaign committees, alleging improper record keeping. The committee, Schock for Congress, pleaded guilty Wednesday through an official and was fined about $26,000.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik Hogstrom, who represented the government in Chicago Wednesday, called the agreement "a fair and sensible resolution."
The case was transferred to prosecutors in Chicago shortly after a Chicago-based judge replaced Urbana-based Colin Bruce as trial judge. Bruce was removed from all criminal cases after exchanging emails with a U.S. attorney's office worker about another case.
Schock's attorneys sought to have the case dismissed before Wednesday's hearing, but a federal judge and federal appeals court declined. The U.S. Supreme Court declined last month to get involved in the case.
Asked Wednesday about what his future holds and whether he will run for public office again, Schock didn't say yes or no. He said he's looking forward to having the weight of this case off his chest and having some kind of private life.