House ethics trial opens for NY’s Charles Rangel

from gopusa.com 

by Larry Margasak

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Charles Rangel of New York headed the House’s tax-writing committee but acknowledged shortchanging the Internal Revenue Service on his own tax bill. Now, a House ethics panel will judge whether filing an amended tax return and belatedly paying his taxes and other financial and fundraising practices violated the congressional rule book.

A rare ethics trial begins Monday for the representative from Harlem. Rangel’s career peaked in 2007 when he became chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. It took a dive last March, when he relinquished that post after his corporate-funded travel was criticized in a separate ethics case.

Rangel, first elected in 1970 and now 80 years old, apparently is without a lawyer. He and his defense team parted company a few months after he complained in an August speech on the House floor that he could no longer afford legal bills that had reached nearly $2 million.

The ethics investigation goes back to at least July 2008. Only former Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio, who was expelled from the House after a criminal conviction, has faced a similar trial since current House ethics procedures were adopted two decades ago.

Key charges portray Rangel as a veteran congressman who thought he could ignore rules on disclosing his assets, and improperly used official resources to raise money for a college center that was a monument to his career.

But an allegation that caught the public’s eye was his failure to declare rental income to the IRS from a resort unit he owned in the Dominican Republic.

The case has generated its share of political game-playing. Republicans on the House ethics committee demanded that the proceeding be held before the election, when the trial of the House’s fourth-most-senior member could have embarrassed Democrats. The Democratic committee chairman, Zoe Lofgren of California, rejected the request.

Rangel was charged by an investigative panel of four Democrats and four Republicans with 13 counts of violating House rules.

A separate group of eight, four from each party, will act as a jury to decide whether there’s “clear and convincing evidence” that House rules were broken. Ethics committee lawyers will function as prosecutors.

If Rangel is found to have violated rules, the ethics committee would meet to decide punishment. It could end the case with a critical report, or recommend a House vote expressing displeasure with Rangel’s conduct.

Rangel has acknowledged ethical lapses; he’s argued he did not intend to break the rules.

The charges allege violations of:

–A House gift ban and restrictions on solicitations. Rangel is accused of using congressional staff, letterhead and workspace to seek donations for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York. The requests usually went to charitable arms of businesses with issues before Congress, including Rangel’s Ways and Means Committee.

–A U.S. government code of ethics. Several allegations fall under this code, among them: Accepting favors (the Rangel Center donations) that could be construed as influencing Rangel’s congressional duties; acceptance of a rent-subsidized New York apartment used as a campaign office, when the lease said it was for residential use only; and failure to report taxable income.

–The Ethics in Government Act and a companion House rule requiring “full and complete” public reports of a congressman’s income, assets and liabilities each year. Rangel is charged with a pattern of submitting incomplete and inaccurate disclosure statements. He only filed amended reports covering 1998 to 2007 after the investigative ethics panel began looking into his disclosures. He belatedly reported at least $600,000 in assets.

Read more: http://www.gopusa.com/news/2010/11/house-ethics-trial-opens-for-nys-charles-rangel.php#ixzz15NB0EalE

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UPDATE –

Rangel Storms Out of Ethics Trial as House Rejects Plea for Delay

Monday, 15 Nov 2010 01:09 PM

By Jim Meyers

Embattled Rep. Charles Rangel stunned a House ethics panel weighing charges against him by walking out of the hearing room as the proceedings were about to begin Monday morning.

Despite having had months to prepare for the hearing, the New York Democrat showed up without a lawyer and claimed he had not had enough time to set up a defense fund and did not have the money to hire an attorney.
“I respectfully remove myself from these hearings,” 80-year-old Rangel said before bolting from the eight-member subcommittee.

Rangel, who is charged with 13 ethics violations, told the panel that he had already spent $2 million on his defense and insisted that moving ahead with the hearing would be unfair, ABC News reported.

“I don’t think it’s fair,” Rangel said, asserting that he needed time to raise $1 million to retain new counsel for the hearing.

After leaving the hearing room, Rangel — who was first elected in 1970 — was asked if he walked out of the hearing to delay the proceedings, the New York Daily News reported. Rangel responded: “I would say that’s a stupid question.”

After he departed, the ethics panel comprised of four Democrats and four Republicans met behind closed doors and decided to continue with the proceedings.

“We recognize that Mr. Rangel has indicated that he does not intend to participate, and that is his right,” said committee chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat.

“These matters have been underway for quite some time. We are prepared to proceed today . . .

“Mr. Rangel has repeatedly sought and received legal guidance as to how he can pay [for legal counsel]. Mr. Rangel was provided with all the material and evidence on June 17 of this year.”

Lofgren has said the proceedings need to be completed by the end of the current Congress, according to ABC News.

As a series of allegations of ethics violations, including tax questions, came to light, Rangel in March stepped aside as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which writes the nation’s tax code. And three months ago, Rangel demanded a hearing before the ethics panel and dared his colleagues to kick him out on the ethics charges.

In February, the House Ethics Committee concluded that Rangel had violated House gift rules by accepting payment from corporations for reimbursement for travel to conferences in the Caribbean, and required him to repay those expenses.

The ethics panel is also looking into allegations that Rangel was improperly living in several rent-stabilized apartments in Manhattan while claiming his Washington, D.C. home as his primary residence for tax purposes.

The New York Times reported in July 2008 that Rangel rents four apartments in Harlem at below-market rates and has used one apartment as a campaign office, which violates city and state regulations requiring that rent-stabilized apartments be used only as a primary residence.

Rangel was also accused of failing to report income from the rental of a villa he owns in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, which he rented out for as much as $1,100 a night.

In September 2008, Rangel paid back taxes of $10,800 owed from rental income on his Punta Cana villa.

Also in September 2008, the New York Post reported that Rangel “has been using a House of Representatives parking garage for years as free storage space for his old Mercedes-Benz, a violation of congressional rules and a potential new tax woe for the embattled lawmaker . . . The spaces are valued by the House at $290 per month.”

Rangel has also been charged with using his official congressional letterhead to solicit funds for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York, and failing to reveal more than half a million dollars in income and assets on financial disclosure forms.

On July 22, a four-member investigative subcommittee of the House Ethics Committee indicated it had “substantial reason to believe” that Rangel had violated ethics rules. And on July 29, Rangel was charged by the committee with 13 counts of violating House rules and federal laws.

The last ethics trial in the House was in 2002 for Rep. James Traficant, an Ohio Democrat later expelled from Congress.

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