Last updated: November 15, 2010 10:22 pm

Ethics panel accepts case against Rangel

Charles Rangel, the New York Democratic congressman accused of violating ethics rules, looked likely to face a guilty verdict after a House panel accepted a prosecutor’s case against him on Monday.

The panel retired to deliberate on Mr Rangel’s fate, but analysts said the fact that it had accepted all the evidence presented by the ethics committee’s lawyers meant a guilty finding looked very likely.

In another twist in the Capitol Hill soap opera, the 21-term Harlem congressman walked out of the hearing just as it began, saying he could not afford a lawyer and had not had time to hire a new legal team after his attorneys quit.

“I object to the proceeding and, with all due respect, since I don’t have counsel to advise me, I’m going to have to excuse myself,” Mr Rangel told the panel, before leaving.

He faces 13 counts of violating House rules, including charges of using his office to raise money for an educational centre bearing his name, and of avoiding paying taxes on a house he owns in the Dominican Republic.

He stepped down in March as chairman of the House’s powerful ways and means committee, which is responsible for setting taxes. On Monday, he complained that he had incurred almost $2m in legal bills and that his lawyers, Zuckerman Spaeder, who estimated the hearing would cost another $1m, had dropped him because they did not believe he would be able to pay.

Zuckerman Spaeder said it did not end its relationship with Mr Rangel.

“This law firm did not seek to terminate the relationship and explored every alternative to remain as his counsel,” the firm said in a statement.

Asking for a delay, Mr Rangel told the panel that he was being denied due process because he had not had enough time to hire new lawyers through a legal defence fund. He is not allowed to accept free legal advice under the House’s ban on receiving gifts.

Zoe Lofgren, the California Democrat chairing the hearing, said the panel had given him advice about how to pay his legal fees on four separate occasions in the past two years, and had decided to continue.

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