The Rangel angle

When I attended the Pritikin program in 2016, Rep. Charlie Rangel was one of my classmates. Rep. Rangel’s long career in politics was preceded by his distinguished Army service in Korea. Contrary to my first impression when I met him in the waiting room before our initial physical on Monday morning, I found him to be a gregarious guy. He attended by himself, but he joined the group tables at meals and freely shared his experiences and reflections with fellow guests.

Attending Pritikin in July 2016 was a bucket list item for me. Talking about him with one of the guests who had spoken with Rangel, I learned that it was Rep. Rangel’s twelfth time around in the program and that he planned on a thirteenth visit the following January when he retired from Congress. Congress must have been good to Rep. Rangel. He’s a success story in more ways than one.

Wondering at the time about his financial wherewithal after 45 or so years in Congress, I found a 2009 Wall Street Journal editorial that is something of a classic. It is biting and witty. The Journal titled the editorial “The absent-minded chairman.” Here it is:

When normal people happen to “find” their own money, it might mean a twenty left in a winter coat, or discovering change beneath the sofa cushions. But if you’re Charlie Rangel, it means doubling your net worth.

Earlier this month the Chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee “amended” his 2007 financial disclosure form—to the tune of more than a half-million dollars in previously unreported assets and income. That number may be as high as $780,000, because Congress’s ethics rules only require the Members to report their finances within broad ranges. This voyage of personal financial discovery brings Mr. Rangel’s net worth for 2007 to somewhere between $1.028 million and $2.495 million, while his previous statement came in at $516,015 and $1.316 million.

When you’re a powerful Congressman and working diligently to increase tax rates to pay for President Obama’s health-care plan, we suppose it’s easy to lose track of one of your checking accounts. That would be the one at the federal credit union with a balance somewhere between $250,001 and maybe as high as $500,000. And when you’re crunched for time and pulling together bills to pass in a rush, we guess, too, that you might overlook several other investment accounts, even if some of them are sizable, such as the ones Mr. Rangel missed at JP Morgan, Merrill Lynch, Oppenheimer and BlackRock.

Oh, and those vacant properties in Glassboro, in southern Jersey? Everybody in Manhattan tries not to think much about New Jersey, so those lots and their as-much-as-$15,000 value must also have slipped down the memory hole. (The New York Post reported yesterday that Mr. Rangel failed to pay property taxes for two of the lots, according to the county clerk’s office.)

The Chairman probably isn’t doing a lot of dining at KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell or Long John Silver’s, either, which may explain why he didn’t disclose the $1,001 to $15,000 in stock he owns in Yum Brands, the conglomerate that runs those chain restaurants. Compared to his undisclosed portfolio stake in PepsiCo—$15,001 to $50,000—that’s practically a rounding error.

All lawmakers amend their financial reports from time to time, though rarely are the errors this extensive. Via email, a Rangel spokesman declined to offer details about how the errors occurred, noting that “Once the Ethics Committee completes its work, then we can answer questions in more detail.” He added that Mr. Rangel is now “confident that his records have been subjected to an exhaustive and complete review, and that the amendments accurately reflect his financial interests.”

Among other issues, Mr. Rangel is currently under investigation regarding his use of four rent-stabilized apartments at New York City’s tony Lenox Terrace and soliciting donations with his official letterhead for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York, which was itself built with a $1.9 million earmark. Yet another part of the probe is his failure to report $75,000 in income from a rental villa at the beachfront Punta Cana Yacht Club, in the Dominican Republic.

Mr. Rangel blamed that last one on the language barrier because he doesn’t speak Spanish. We can only imagine what language he speaks with his accountants and tax attorneys.

The New York Times published a 2008 story on Rep. Rangel’s four rent-stabilized apartments. The Times story noted that Rangel declined to answer questions during a telephone interview, although he did stay on long enough to say that his housing was a private matter not affecting his representation. The Times reported that he “abruptly” hung up after posing the rhetorical question: “Why should I help you embarrass me?”

The New York Daily News updated the Dominican villa aspect of the story here in 2011, though it still left a few threads hanging.

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