Editor’s Note: Neither Congressman Schock nor his staff would speak on the record for this story.
This has been a really bad week for Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock (R-18th). And sadly, it’s about to get a lot worse.
Schock landed in a bit of hot water by purportedly redecorating his taxpayer-funded office with campaign funds, the result being some sort of Downton Abbey wannabe. Needless to say, he failed miserably in what seems to be a long line of excessive spending sprees on ornate offices.
And then the whole episode brought far more scrutiny to his social media feeds and gift disclosures which document his lavish globetrotting, often paid for by special interests, that’s carried him to five star resorts and beachside escapes in dozens of cities on five continents, all of it meticulously documented on his ill-advised Instagram feed.
And as if that weren’t enough to send him over the edge, he then had to deal with a “Human Resources” debacle aka his Communications Director Benjamin Cole, who referred to African-Americans as zoo animals and suggested President Obama install a mosque at the White House. Needless to say, Cole no longer works for Schock.
Then Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint against Schock and my colleagues in the media went into a frenzy.
Now there’s this: the month before the 2012 elections, Congressman Schock sold his house to a major Republican donor who was also one of his campaign supporters for a price that appears to far exceed the market value at the time. Memories of disgraced former GOP Congressman Duke Cunningham (CA) came flooding back into my head as I worked through the documents.
Here’s the background:
- Ali Bahaj – then a Vice President at Caterpillar – and his wife Gloria have donated more than $45,000 over the last decade to the Caterpillar PAC and various Republican officeholders – including Congressman Schock. In fact, Federal Election Commission records show that Mr. and Mrs. Bahaj each made the maximum allowable donation to Aaron Schock’s campaign in 2008. These were legal donations and they aren’t the first or last time a Member of Congress received donations from constituents.
- In turn, Congressman Schock has carried water repeatedly in Washington, D.C. for Caterpillar, even going on Fox News…[moko_youtube src=”J2RzO-tf6UY”]…to defend the company against what he claimed were “outrageous” attacks that “demonize” the company for avoiding $2.4 billion in taxes by shifting profits to a Swiss subsidiary. In fact, just last month, Schock defended the company’s move to lay off workers by blaming the problem on President Obama – a statement that earned him a rebuke from the State Journal-Register in Springfield.
- Congressman Schock on October 16, 2012 sold his home to the Bahajs for $925,000. That’s more than three times the tax assessed value of the property. Zillow estimates that the house was worth approximately $695,000 that month.
- I searched the County of Peoria’s Supervisor of Assessments for Schock’s former home, found a few “comps” (aka similarly-sized homes in his gated community), and found this: the Bahaj’s paid far more than other buyers of similar homes near Schock’s. In fact, nearly identical homes nearby to Schock’s sold for $580,000 (8/31/2011)
- $633,600 (2/11/2011)
- $655,000 (7/15/2013) and
- $791,500 (10/1/2009) respectively.
- All of these homes are located on Augusta Drive, in the tony neighborhood of Augusta Estates. It’s not uncommon to sell a home for a profit, but it is uncommon to sell a home to a campaign donor for a price well above market value (unless you’re Duke Cunningham and then it only gets you seven years of jail time).
- Simply put: sell a home for a profit, fine. Sell a home to a campaign donor for huge money, meh!
- At the time that Mr. Bahaj paid $925,000 to Congressman Schock for his house, vacant lots in Augusta Estates were selling between $70,000 and $90,000. That puts the construction value of Congressman Schock’s home at $835,000 meaning his four bedroom home would’ve cost that much to build. Not likely.
- Note that one home, located at 2263 W. Augusta, did sell for a bit more than Schock’s house at around the same time. But that house had more than an acre of land – nearly four times the lot size of Schock’s house – and a gigantic landscaped area with features like an outdoor pizza oven. It’s a three-story home with five bedrooms, two kitchens and 5,335 square feet of finished living area plus a 1446 square feet garage. Schock’s much smaller home was 4100 square feet with an 841 square foot garage and just one kitchen.
- Man, I want two kitchens!
- Homes most comparable to Schock’s sold for between $580,000 and $791,000. In fact, Zillow lists one home on the block for sale today. It is of a similar size and features as Schock’s home. It is currently listed for $799,000 and hasn’t sold in more than a year of being on the market, which suggests it’s worth even less. And that’s pretty telling considering that houses on this block would be worth more now than they were when Schock sold as the market was bottoming out.
- According to Peoria County’s tax assessment, his home was worth $255,000 at the time it was sold to Mr. Bahaj.
Congressman Schock’s financial disclosure form shows that he rightly disclosed selling his home for a profit of anywhere between $500,000-$1,000,000. Congressional ethics rules allow Members to record profits and losses generally without much detail.
According to Zillow’s home price index, Congressman Schock sold his house at the absolute rock bottom for the Illinois real estate market, also the worst month for housing prices in a decade.
In the Peoria market specifically where Congressman Schock’s home was located, October 2012 was just above rock bottom.
It’s possible Congressman Schock just got incredibly lucky finding the right buyer to throw him a life raft as homeowners around him were drowning. But it begs the question: Was this transaction more than just luck?
It would be one thing if Schock had put his house on the market and a stranger with no political agenda overpaid for it. But the fact that he sold the property to someone he already knew – a couple who had maxed out to his campaign – invites speculation that the transaction was based on more than just the market value of the house. Finally, the sale just happened to come the month before the 2012 elections. To quote SNL’s Church Lady, “How convenient!”
So let’s suppose Schock’s house was worth basically a million bucks. If that’s the case (and it is, right, because it sold for $925,000), then shouldn’t the houses near him have been worth that? If Schock had built a McMansion next to a bunch of mobile homes, then I’d eat crow pie. But the pictures above prove to me and you that in fact there were no wheels on any of these homes. These homes, in this gated community with a golf course, were not trailers but literally cookie cutter homes like his.
Schock’s home was not a trailer and it sold for nearly a million bucks. His neighbors? Not so much.
Bottom line: Congressman Schock sold his home at what appears to be an inflated price to a political donor.
And like that old Morton’s Salt ad, when it rains it pours. Sadly, the salt in this wound may sting a bit too much. Way too much actually.
Questions must be asked and the Office of Congressional Ethics must investigate this transaction quickly and thoroughly. Congressman Schock and his constituents, the taxpayers, deserve nothing less.
Disclaimer: an earlier version of this story showed incorrectly reported the price of one of the neighboring homes.