Under Fire, Rangel Hires Accountant to Analyze Finances

A new set of potential problems in Rep. Charles Rangel's financial papers has prompted the tax-writing lawmaker to hire a forensic accounting expert to try to unravel the mess.

Rangel, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, is already the subject of ethics committee investigations on several fronts, including unreported income and unpaid taxes on his beach house in the Dominican Republic.

Those issues and others have led the New York Democrat to hire the expert to pore over Rangel's finances over the past 20 years, and issue a report to the House ethics committee.

Rangel's lawyer, Lanny Davis, said the hiring shows Rangel "has nothing to hide and does not believe he has done anything intentionally wrong."

The report will be given to the committee "as quickly as possible," Davis said, and the congressman will not get to see it before the committee.

The tax issue is particularly embarrassing for a lawmaker whose job is to guide new tax law. Rangel is resisting calls from Republicans that he should lose his committee post, among the most coveted on Capitol Hill.

As more questions have been raised about Rangel's records, his lawyers and accountants have uncovered new discrepancies in the personal financial disclosure documents that he files every year to Congress. Every lawmaker is required to file such paperwork disclosing major assets.

Rangel said in a statement he became aware of the issues over the weekend while working with his attorneys and staff. "While over the years I delegated to my staff the completion of my annual House financial disclosure statements, I had the ultimate responsibility. I owed my colleagues and the public adherence to a higher standard of care not only as a member of Congress but even more as the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee," he said.

Among the new discrepancies:

—Rangel's papers over the past 10 years show no reference to the sale of a home he once owned on Colorado Avenue in Washington.

—The details of a property bought in Sunny Isles, Fla., are bewildering at best. The stated value changes significantly from year to year, and even page to page, from $50,000 to $100,000 all the way up to $500,000.

—Some of the entries for investment funds fluctuate strangely, suggesting that the person either didn't have accurate information or didn't fill out the paperwork correctly.

Rangel spent the past week trying to answer questions about his ethics and his finances.

He admitted he owes the Internal Revenue Service about $5,000 in back taxes for unreported income from the rental of his vacation villa, and probably a smaller amount to state and city tax collectors.

The congressman acknowledged he made mistakes but said they were errors of omission and should not lead to the loss of his high position in Congress.

The home in the Dominican Republic has proven a major embarrassment to the 78-year-old Rangel, who conceded he never reported the rental income over a 20-year period, received a no-interest mortgage on the place for more than half that time and claims to have no idea what it is worth today.

The ethics committee is also investigating Rangel's rental of three rent-stabilized apartments in his home district of Harlem, as well as his use of official congressional stationery to try to find private donors for a college center named after the lawmaker.