SEPTEMBER 05, 2008
A powerful Democrat congressman who has repeatedly violated House ethics rules and used his office to raise money from corporations with business before him, has for decades excluded rental income from a Caribbean villa on federal and state tax returns.
It marks the latest in a series of violations for veteran New York Representative Charles Rangel, a self-proclaimed champion of his poor Harlem constituents. Instead, his recent gaffes paint the portrait of a greedy rich politician who might very well think that he is above the law.
It turns out that, although Rangel is chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which actually writes the federal tax code, he claims that he had no idea that he had to declare thousands of dollars in rent money as income. So, for 20 years Rangel has not reported about $75,000 in rental income from his luxury villa in the Dominican Republic.
Additionally, the lawmaker has failed to mention the income in his congressional financial disclosure forms, which are sworn statements. Intentionally filing a false report is a felony that carries a possible prison sentence. On top of that, New York state law makes filing a false city or state tax return a felony punishable by up to four years in prison.
Claiming ignorance and blaming his wife will probably be sufficient to help Rangel, a member of the House since 1971, escape punishment. After all, he has not faced any consequences for his other violations. Just a few months ago, Rangel was exposed by his hometown newspaper for having four extremely rare rent-stabilized apartments—a violation of state and city regulations as well as House ethics rules—even though he regularly criticizes his district’s lack of affordable housing.
In the same week, Rangel was exposed for using his congressional office to solicit millions of dollars in donations from corporations with business interests before his panel. The money, about $30 million, will be used for a new academic center that will be named after him and eventually house his papers when he retires. Rangel got the project started with a highly controversial $1.9 million congressional earmark.
In 2007 Rangel was in hot water for proposing tax legislation that would greatly benefit his campaign contributors and the year before for secretly accepting an all-expense paid family trip from a terrorist government. He slipped the tax provision into a broad tax relief bill in order to halt current audits of Americans who get breaks for operating businesses in the Virgin Islands.
In 2006 he was caught lying about a family trip financed by a government that for years has appeared on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist-sponsoring nations, a violation of House ethics rules. Rangel actually lied on his congressional travel disclosure forms to conceal that the Cuban government had paid for him and his family to visit the island to meet with Dictator Fidel Castro to discuss lifting U.S. trade restrictions on Havana.
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