Checkcashing Charlie

The jury is still out on whether the SEC charges against the Wyly brothers were intended to run interference while Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) was facing the (light) music, but there remains a question of why Rangel isn’t up against an actual jury on his own account:

[W]hat is all this talk about deal with ethics committee? Is he guilty or not? Did he do these things? (he did, and more) Then he should be brought to court, made to return public & private money and sentenced according to law.

How come an ethics committee became a substitute for due legal process?

Why they have an authority to forgive or punish crimes on behalf of the people? Isn’t it a violation of constitutional principles?

When similar questions were posed here, I punted, pointing out that so far, no action had been taken outside the House of Representatives. The question therefore becomes: Could Rangel be charged with violations of federal law, outside House rules? A reading of the 40-page “Statement of Alleged Violation” [link autoloads a PDF file] indicates that yes, he could, though only for some of the specific counts.

Which leads to the next question: Would a prosecutor outside the House actually bring charges against Rangel for, say, tax evasion? Probably not:

New York State law classifies filing a false city or state tax return a felony punishable by up to four years in prison, but Kathleen M. Pakenham, a tax lawyer at the law firm of White & Case, said criminal prosecutions are rare and in most cases, the taxpayer is simply fined 20 percent of the back taxes owed. Under federal law it is a felony to “willfully” evade payment of taxes or file a false return, and sentences can include prison terms and fines of up to $100,000. But Daniel Goldberg, a tax law professor at the University of Maryland School of Law, said that the I.R.S. rarely pursued criminal prosecution or imposed fines in cases where no back taxes were owed.

So don’t look for Rangel to serve any time. On the other hand, I wouldn’t expect the authorities to cut you or me the same amount of slack.

1 comment

  1. Tatyana »

    1 August 2010 · 10:06 am

    As usual, you’ve done actual research where I only line exclamation marks.

    About quoted opinion of lawyers: it would be interesting to see in actual figures what the term “rarely” translates to”: how many opened cases, how many convictions and how many of those convicted were former (or current – even better!) public figures…

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