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November 23, 2008
More Tax Shenanigans by Rangell
Representative Charles Rangell (D-NY) has recently found himself in hot water for his ownership of several rent controlled apartments that he rented out while keeping two of the units for his personal use despite it being against the law.
His troubles were summed up in this New York Post article:
In 1988, he began renting three rent-stabilized apartments in the Lenox Terrace building on 135th Street in Harlem, which he combined into one 2,500-square-foot home. Later, Rangel rented a fourth unit - a studio apartment that he used as an office.
He was forced to relinquish the office last month as the House of Representatives' Committee on Standards and Official Conduct voted to conduct a probe of his personal finances.
The investigation, which Rangel requested, was announced shortly after The Post revealed that he had failed to report income on the rental of a beachfront villa he owns in the Dominican Republic. He later admitted that he failed to report $75,000 in income from the villa over a 20-year period and owed $9,500 in taxes.
At first, Rangel blamed the accounting mishaps on sloppy bookkeeping and his wife, who he said was in charge of the family's finances. He also said he did not receive regular financial reports from the Punta Cana Resort and did not understand the paperwork because it was in Spanish.
Amid calls for him to give up his position as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Rangel promised in September to hire a forensic accountant to scour his tax returns and financial disclosures and to present the results to the Ethics Committee. After The Post reported on Nov. 2 that he had not yet hired a CPA, a spokesman for Rangel announced that he finally did so on Nov. 9.
Now it turns out that Rangell has been cheating in several other ways on his taxes:
Harlem Rep. Charles Rangel took a "homestead" tax break on a Washington, DC, house for years while simultaneously occupying multiple rent-stabilized apartments in New York City, possibly violating laws and regulations in both cases.
The situation raises a number of potential problems for the congressman, including:
* New York City law requires that tenants use rent-stabilized apartments as their primary residence.
* DC's real Property Homestead Deduction Act also requires that a property receiving the benefit be a primary residence.
* Tax lawyers told The Post that a property owner cannot have two primary residences - or take advantages provided to primary residences at two different addresses simultaneously.
* DC's law also requires that the owner of a property benefiting from the tax break be a personal-income taxpayer in DC. District law exempts members of Congress from paying personal DC income tax, but they must pay property tax.
The DC rules state that "by maintaining a residence in his home state and actively voting there, [a member of Congress] is demonstrating that he continues to be a part of the body politic of his home state . . . The Member is a domiciliary of his home state. Because he is not domiciled in the District, the Member cannot claim the District's homestead deduction."
"Double-dipping" its called and it is illegal. Ignorance of the law is no excuse even if one were to believe that the guy in charge of writing tax law (Rangell is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee) would be unaware that his actions were breaking the law.
Rangell's hiring of a "forensic accountant" - done reluctantly and belatedly - just might land him in hot water with the ethics committee. That is, if we can believe the accountant is on the up and up. One would think the IRS would have their own "forensic accountants" and why they haven't started their own investigation into Rangell might be an interesting question.
It hardly matters. It will take a crane to get Rangell out of his chair on Ways and Means. He will no doubt weather this storm as a he has others in his career, being shielded by his colleagues who come to him whenever they need little favors for cronies in amending the tax code.
Hat Tip: Ed Lasky