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Charles Rangel confronts ethics tangle Monday with hearing

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Don’t feel sorry for Charlie.

Congressman Charles Rangel’s unusual House ethics trial begins Monday in Washington, but political observers and Harlem residents agree on one thing: He’ll at most get a legal slap on the wrist, though he could theoretically face ouster after 40 years.

“I don’t think [his punishment] will matter,” said Democratic media consultant Joseph Mercurio. “He’s the kind of guy that dies in office.”

The scandal-plagued political legend is set to defend himself against 13 counts of violating House ethics rules, and remained characteristically defiant Sunday.

“All I can do is just ask for the time to be heard,” Rangel yesterday told NY1. The representative handily won re-election, and has maintained his innocence throughout the two-year probe.

A verdict is expected as early as Thursday, with the lame-duck House eager to close the case before the Republican majority takes control.

Proceedings such as these are “few and far between” and “will be illuminating for the American people,” said political ethics lawyer Kenneth A. Gross, pointing out that Rangel predecessor Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was also embroiled in ethics scandals.

Gross predicted an ouster won’t happen to Rangel, who has already forfeited his chairmanship of the Ways and Means House committee. The congressman will get a public reprimand at most, Gross said.

In letting his case go this far rather than striking a deal, Rangel “wants to make the case as aggressively as possible that he’s being mistreated,” Mercurio said.

Harlem residents Sunday stood behind Rangel, with many proud of what he’s done for the community.

“He’s a great man. A man of integrity and greatness,” said William Coaxum Jr., 54, “but it’s not just about how great you are. It’s about how you finish, and Charlie Rangel is going to finish just fine.”

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Rangel’s legal tangle
The Congressman is charged with 13 counts of violating House rules. He faces no criminal charges, but here are some of his alleged ethics violations:

* Abused power as chairman of the House tax-writing committee in soliciting funds for his Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College.

* Failed to reveal more than half a million dollars in income and assets on financial disclosure forms.

* Failed to pay rental income taxes on Dominican Republic villa.

* Used a rent-stabilized apartment in Harlem as a campaign office despite NYC rules requiring such apartments to be primary residences.

The House ethics proceedings are expected to produce a verdict by Thursday. Here’s the procedure:

* An adjudicatory subcommittee delivers opening statements and presents evidence against Rangel.

* Rangel, as his own counsel, responds to allegations.

* Both sides call witnesses. (Former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau expected to be among them).

* A subcommittee deliberates and votes on the 13 counts, then sends a report to the full ethics committee.

* The committee holds a public sanctions hearing, votes on any violations and then sends a decision on Rangel’s punishment, if any, to the full House.

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