In early 1978, a veteran Democratic House member from Detroit – Rep. Charles Diggs—was charged with taking kickbacks from members of his congressional staff whose salaries he had raised. Although Diggs was subsequently convicted on Oct. 7, 1979 on 11 counts of mail fraud and filing false payroll forms, the one-time funeral director continued to insist he’d done nothing wrong – and was reelected while he awaited sentencing.
Diggs was censured by the House on July 31, 1979 but held his seat until June 3, 1980, when he finally resigned in disgrace and was sentenced to three years in prison.
Diggs’ experience may inspire Rep. Michael G. Grimm (R-NY) in his apparent effort to cling to his Staten Island House seat after pleading guilty Tuesday to a tax fraud charge. Nobody has ever accused the onetime FBI special agent of lacking chutzpah.
Grimm handily won reelection to a third term Nov. 4 after being slammed last April with a 20-count federal indictment for tax fraud in connection with a Manhattan restaurant he once owned called Healthalicious. While operating the restaurant, he was charged with underreporting gross receipts and paying some employees “off the books” to avoid taxes.
Grimm faces sentencing next June. Federal prosecutors are seeking a penalty of at least two years in prison, The New York Times has reported. But Grimm insists what he did was no big deal – something many Americans routinely do in hiding their true tax liabilities.
“As long as I am able to serve I’m going to serve,” Grimm told reporters outside the Brooklyn federal courthouse.
House Speaker John Boehner and other GOP leaders may have a different view: Grimm may face pressure from his own colleagues and Democrats to do the right thing and step down – before somebody begins calling for his censure or expulsion.
Say whatever you want about about Grimm -- he’s the latest in a sizable rogue’s gallery of shamelessly corrupt members of Congress going back decades. With 535 politicians serving in the House and Senate at any one time, there’s always bound to be at least one bad apple.
Here are just a few other notable examples:
Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL) pleaded guilty Feb. 20, 2013, to one count of wire and mail fraud and was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison. Jackson used $750,000 in campaign funds to lead a lavish lifestyle.
Former Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ) was convicted June 12, 2013 of 17 counts of wire fraud, conspiracy, extortion, racketeering and money laundering after looting a family insurance business to help pay for his 2012 campaign.
Former Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-LA) was charged in August 2005 with accepting bribes after the FBI seized $90,000 in cash stored in baggies in his freezer. Jefferson was reelected to the House in 2006 but lost two years later. He was convicted in November 2009 and sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Former Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) pleaded guilty in 2006 to conspiracy and making false statements after receiving luxury trips from corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff in return for legislative favors. Ney was sentenced to 30 months in prison. He tried to retain his seat but was forced to resign Nov. 3 of that year, four days before the general election.
Former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA) pleaded guilty in November 2008 to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud and tax evasion and was sentenced to over eight years in prison.
Former Rep. Jim Traficant (D-OH) was convicted of 10 felony counts including bribery, racketeering and tax evasion on April 15, 2002. He was expelled from Congress on July 24 and sentenced to seven years in federal prison. That didn’t deter the colorful Traficant. He ran as an independent candidate for another House term while incarcerated at the federal penitentiary at Allenwood – and actually received 15 percent of the vote. He became one of only a handful of politicians in history to run for a federal office from prison.
Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) was indicted in Austin in 2005 on criminal charges of conspiracy to violate election law in 2002. DeLay temporarily resigned his leadership post and later said he would not seek to return to that position. He was convicted in January 2011 and sentenced to three years in prison but was free on bail. However, the conviction was overturned by the Texas Court of Appeals on Sept. 19, 2013, on the grounds the evidence was “legally insufficient.” That ruling survived a challenge by the prosecutors in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals last October.
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