Former Congressman Aaron Schock has been indicted by the FBI, accused of a dizzying array of fraudulent transactions to enrich himself.
Federal prosecutors allege that Schock pocketed tens of thousands of dollars in improper mileage reimbursments, camera equipment, and proceeds from selling tickets to the World Series and Super Bowl. Schock even used a front corporation to make money from an annual constituent “fly-in,” the indictment states.
His lawyers say it was just sloppy bookkeeping, but he claimed $138,663 in ‘fraudulent mileage reimbursements’ including claiming to drive 150,000 miles more than shown on odometers.
Thing is when there’s a political scandal, it doesn’t usually involve money, it also frequently involves miles.
New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez faced corruption charges over acceptance of a suite at the Park Hyatt Vendome redeemed by a donor with American Express Membership Rewards points. A court didn’t buy that the suite had no value because redeemed with points, the method of payment wasn’t relevant to the value received (and indeed he should have been liable for such a criminally poor use of points).
When South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford engaged in an affair with a woman from Argentina and resigned his office in 2009, it was revealed that he visited her using Delta SkyMiles for business class award tickets.
Politicians get special travel perks anyway and when they’re pushing the envelope, they often do it across the board, including with miles.
So it’s no real surprise that former Congressman Schock dipped into campaign funds when an award redemption went awry (HT: Ryan C.):
In August 2013, Schock used American Express points to book a vacation to Europe from Washington Dulles Airport. When his connecting flight from Peoria was delayed, he chartered an airplane for more than $8,000, and charged his campaign account for the cost, according to the indictment.
It’s not clear whether this would have been a simple misconnect (requiring the operating airline to re-route him) or whether he had purchased separate tickets for positioning flights since the domestic segments weren’t available as saver awards.
Misconnecting on separate tickets when booking an award is a tough situation. I usually advise leaving more time than usual unless you’re flying American, which still protects you. I like to have enough time that a cancelled flight allows me to take the next scheduled flight and still make it.
Even travel delay coverage from a credit card can be problematic on an award. Not all credit card coverage will apply when only taxes are paid with that card, and those where it will usually only cover up to the amount charged in the event of a split tender payment. This remains very useful, though, when fuel surcharges apply on the award since coverage up to $500 or $1000 will be enough to reimburse hotel and meal expenses incurred as a result of a delay.
While I might have suspected that an Illinois Congressman flying via Washington Dulles would have been using United miles, his use of American Express Membership Rewards points suggests either an especially poor use of points (Pay With Points likely at 1 cent apiece in value or a little bit more, but this was prior to the Business Platinum’s new 50% points rebate benefit which yields 2 cents in value) or a savvy transferring points to miles. You’d expect someone leveraging their points for a vacation might be careful with money, but that appears not to have been the case.