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Grand jury takes testimony in probe of former US Rep. Schock

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — A federal grand jury took testimony Wednesday as part of its probe of former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, amid questions about spending that include reports that he accepted private airplane flights from donors and decorated his office in the style of TV’s “Downton Abbey.”

Schock, a Republican, was in his fourth term representing the Peoria area when he resigned from Congress in March following months of media reports about lavish office and political spending, which also included questions about improper mileage reimbursements.

Benjamin Cole, Schock’s former communications director, said he answered questions from the grand jury in Springfield for two hours on Wednesday. Cole, who said he is cooperating with federal prosecutors, said the grand jury told him afterward he would no longer be needed to testify.

At least two other Schock staff members were seen leaving the courthouse after spending about four hours there Wednesday, but they would not comment.

The Justice Department has issued subpoenas to at least half a dozen current and former Schock staffers as it examines his expense accounts, campaign spending and relationships with donors. Schock’s resignation followed a series of revelations over six weeks about his business deals and spending.

Congressional ethics investigators had begun probing Schock’s conduct in the days before his announcement, but that probe likely was shut down because of the federal investigation.

Questions about Schock’s spending have included Associated Press investigations of his real estate transactions, air travel and entertainment expenses — including some events that the congressman documented in photographs on his Instagram account. Reports by Politico and other news organizations singled out Schock’s unusually high personal reimbursements for auto mileage.

Sharon Paul, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said she would neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.

A special primary election to replace Schock is scheduled for July 7, with a special general election to follow Sept. 10.

In a separate legal matter, a contributor to Schock has filed suit against him, seeking to force the repayment of millions of dollars in campaign contributions. That person gave $500 to Schock but seeks class-action status for the complaint.

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