RICO was intended to apply to an innumerable array of criminal activities perpetrated through enterprises. Congress cast the net wide by putting in dozens of types of crimes and defining “enterprise” so broadly that it includes any person, business entity, or combination of them, whether legitimate or corrupt. So why not apply RICO to a former member of Congress who duped his supporters into giving him money by hiding his illegal activities? We will soon find out. That’s the basis of my RICO case against Aaron Schock, the disgraced ex-Congressman who raised a fortune on his image as a clean-cut young Republican. I liked what I read about him and gave him a check three years ago. He was thinking about moving up, to the Senate or Governor of Illinois.
He was also up to his ears in various illicit schemes including making fraudulent mileage reimbursement requests to the House, selling his home to a donor for an above-market price and taking free flights on chartered planes in violation of House gift rules. When it all became known he chose to resign rather than explain his behavior.
I’ll be very surprised if RICO does not apply to Schock. The case was just filed today and already skeptical Washington lawyers are saying a campaign donation is the equivalent of a gift and somehow this exempts Schock’s behavior from being considered a “scheme” under the mail fraud statute. But the mail fraud statute has been interpreted as being so broad as to apply to any type of “cheating” overreaching” or “fib.” If filing a false statement with the Cook County Treasurer saying a bidder at its tax auction swears to comply with its rule against having more than one person in the bidding room constitutes a “scheme” then why can’t a Congressman’s mailing to potential donors be a scheme when the mailing falsely portrays him as ethical? That mailing went to thousands of people and deliberately solicited money from them while the false affidavit with Cook County did not directly harm anyone. Yet the Supreme Court unanimously allowed the Cook County RICO suit to proceed as a form of mail fraud.
The fact that there are no reported decisions against corrupt politicians for deceiving donors does not mean this one will fail. RICO has been successfully used against Congressmen who take bribes (Mario Biaggi, Harrison Williams), a Congressman who hired illegal immigrants and cheated on his taxes (Michael Grimm), and another one who put bribe money in a freezer in his office (William Jefferson). When I gave my money to Aaron Schock I wasn’t asking for anything in return, i.e., it was no bribe, but I was induced to give by his representations about himself. And that’s what he wanted, to be a fund raising machine fueled by his image. It seems he spent an inordinate amount of his tenure in Congress raising money, and he could not have done so had he not successfully marketed himself as a future leader. Now we know the image was a false one. How is that different from buying a forgery at an art gallery?
Schock left with $3.5 million in his campaign treasury. He is not permitted to convert that money to his personal use. He might well be using it to pay his high-priced legal team trying to keep him out of jail. and that may not be a legal expenditure. (A federal grand jury is now investigating him.) But I’d like to hear him explain why he should not return it to his donors. That’s what this case is trying to do.