House Ethics Committee claims Richardson treated probe with "utter disdain"

The House Ethics Committee unanimously found Wednesday that embattled Rep. Laura Richardson (D-CA) violated House rules and treated its probe of her with "utter disdain."

The committee voted to fine and reprimand the California Democrat for inappropriately using Congressional staff and resources for campaign and personal activities.

The panel asked Richardson pay a $10,000 fine for her transgressions by December 1. A statement by the top members of the Ethics Committee, Reps. Jo Bonner (R-AL) and Linda Sanchez (D-CA), indicated that Richardson agreed to the seven charges of misconduct. The full House must still approve the Ethics report. That is expected to come Thursday.

The Ethics panel also sanctioned two former Richardson aides, Daysha Austin and Shirley Cook, with a letter of rebuke for their conduct."The full Committee unanimously agreed to strongly discourage Representative Richardson from permitting any of her official staff to perform work on her campaign (either on a paid or volunteer basis), but to the extent any of her official staff do perform work on her campaign, that said staff be required to sign a waiver asserting that such work will be provided voluntarily and is not being compelled by Representative Richardson." wrote the Ethics panel.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) declined immediate comment on Richardson's fate, saying he hadn't yet read the report. The announcement comes just months before Richardson competes in a tough incumbent-versus-incumbent race against fellow Rep. Janice Hahn (D-CA).

Redistricting pitted the two incumbents against each other this year after the independent commission in charge of the process tattered Richardson's district. Hahn and Richardson emerged as the top vote getters in the June primary and are set for a re-match in the general election this fall.

An investigative subcommittee launched a preliminary inquiry into Richardson in November, 2011. It succeeded a probe initiated by the Office of Congressional Ethics several months earlier.

At the start of the investigation, Richardson argued that the Ethics Committee failed to equally apply its standards to all House members. She noted that the committee didn't look into whether members who sleep in their offices - arguably to their personal benefit - may violate ethics rules.

"The Committee has chosen to unjustly target its investigations on certain Members, while overlooking the well-publicized misuse of official House resources for personal purposes by numerous other Members of Congress," Richardson said in a statement last fall. "Numerous Members have used their House offices for personal lodging, in some cases for years, saving tens of thousands of dollars personally at taxpayers' expense. Under House rules, personal use of House resources is as impermissible as political use. Accordingly, I will raise this issue with the Ethics Committee."

A member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Richardson further accused the committee of unfairly targeting minority lawmakers.

"I also intend to explore the issue of whether the Ethics Committee has engaged in discriminatory conduct in pursuing two investigations against me while simultaneously failing to apply the same standards to or take the same actions against other Members-of whom the overwhelming majority are white males," Richardson said.

These ethics charges aren't the first of Richardson's three-term House career. She underwent a high-profile inquiry in 2010 investigating whether she improperly received a gift in the refinancing of a house, as well as incomplete financial disclosures. The committee ultimately cleared Richardson of the allegations.

In a statement, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) blasted not only Richardson but the Ethics Committee itself.

"Given the incredibly damning nature of the report, the only question is why Rep. Richardson received only a reprimand and a $10,000 fine?" asked CREW executive director Melanie Sloan. But CREW reserved its harshest criticism for the Congresswoman herself"The report strips Rep. Richardson of her right to the honorific title of ‘Honorable'" said Sloan. "In fact, the committee should have recommended her expulsion."

FOX's Cristina Marcos contributed to this report.