Investigation expands into Congressman accused of not paying taxes

U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) must feel like Superman. Despite an ongoing ethics probe, the Ways and Means Committee chairman has managed to fend off three votes to have him removed from his position. For awhile, it has seemed that he was invincible.

Last week, however, the bipartisan House ethics committee signaled that might be changing. After 150 subpoenas, 34 witnesses and more than 12,000 pages of documents, the committee clearly believes that it's making some headway: the committee has publicly announced that it will expand its investigation into Rangel's finances.

The timing couldn't be worse for the Rangel -- or better for the committee. After a few years of taxpayer apathy, a dismal economy may be changing public opinion. And an intensified scrutiny of Rangel's finances certainly won't attract the kind of attention that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) wants as the 2010 elections draw near.

The committee has tackled a litany of complaints into Rangel's financial dealings. The most serious charge against Rangel? That he failed to pay his taxes. Yes, this is the man charged with writing tax law in this country.

Last year, Rangel admitted that he failed to report $75,000 in rental income for a property in the Dominican Republic, claiming that he didn't understand the tax consequences because of the language barrier. This, despite the fact that nearly half of Rangel's district speaks Spanish.

It's even more mind-boggling since Rangel had an accountant and should have been fully aware of the fact that U.S. tax law requires that you report your worldwide income.

It's not just the Dominican rental property that's a problem for Rangel. According to the Gloucester County Clerk's office, Rangel was delinquent on his domestic property taxes earlier this year, so much so that he was liened. And it's not the first tax lien that's been issued against Rangel for failure to pay property taxes. Or the second. Or the third. It's the sixth.

What does Rangel have to say about all of this? Oh he's got lots to say. He blames his accountant. He blames his schedule. He even blames his wife, Alma. In fact, he apparently feels that there's lots of blame to go around. Except for himself.

And it doesn't stop there: Rangel is also charged with failing to properly disclose his assets. Earlier this year, Rangel amended his disclosure forms to include assets that he had previously "overlooked."

With the addition of a bank account here, a brokerage account there and a few properties in New Jersey, Rangel's reported net worth nearly doubled to between $1,028,024 and $2,495,000. The exact figures are still, apparently, a work in progress. (Again, the accountant.)

Somehow, Rangel keeps defending these charges with a straight face. Imagine sitting across from the IRS at audit and trying to explain how you failed -- repeatedly -- to report your income correctly. I'd imagine that it wouldn't go so well. And I'm guessing you don't write tax law for a living.

There's something to be said for allowing the committee to do its work and present its report. And yes, this is the country of innocent until proven guilty. But this is also a country that puts its faith and trust in those in our government to serve us well and do the right thing. Rangel should do the right thing here. And we all know what that is.

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