Rep. Charles H. Wilson (D-Calif.) was formally charged by the House ethics committee yesterday with violating House rules by accepting $15,500 from a wealthy California businessman who was on his staff in the early 1970s.
Wilson also was accused of converting nearly $29,000 in campaign funds to his personal use between 1971 and 1974 and then lying about it to House investigators.
The 62-year-old congressman from suburban Los Angeles issued a statement that both denied the charges and announced that he will be a candidate for election to a 10th term next year.
This is the second time in a year Wilson has been charged with unethical conduct by his colleagues. Last year he was reprimanded by the House after the same committee concluded that he made false statements about receiving cash from South Korean lobbyist Tongsun Park.
The new 15-count "statement of alleged violations" is the equivalent of a grand jury indictment. Wilson's defense is to be presented at a public hearing and then the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct will vote whether to recommend a punishment -- reprimand, censure or expulsion -- to the full House, the final judge.
Sources familiar with the committee investigation said evidence to support the changes filled yesterday was uncovered by investigators checking Wilson's financial records for possible payoffs from South Korean agents.
The charges center on Wilson's relationship with Lee Rogers, head of American Holiday Association, a Los Angeles mail order house. House payroll records show that Rogers received nearly $50,000 from Wilson's staff account between 1971 and 1976. The charges said Wilson knew "that the compensation paid was not commensurate with the duties performed by Lee Rogers."
One former Wilson staffer said yesterday that he never saw Rogers in Wilson's district office during the time period cited in the charges.
During the same time period, the committee allegation said, Rogers was making "gifts" to Wilson -- $5,000 each in June of 1971, 1972 and 1973 and $500 in December 1972 -- "under circumstances which might be construed by reasonable persons as influencing the performance of his governmental duties."
At the time, Rogers also had a direct interest in legislation before Congress, the charges said.
The committee also investigated Wilson's relationship with Dan Hurd, another former employe, but didn't pursue possible kickback charges because Hurd died a few years ago, according to source. The Justice Department also is examining a possible kickback scheme involving Wilson, Rogers, Hurd and Hurd's boss, Terry Matthews, sources there said.
Eight of the charges against Wilson allege that he converted campaign funds to his personal use between 71 and 1974.
In his denial, Wilson said no staff member has ever "given me any portion of their congressional salary." He also said he never "knowingly or deliberately" broke House rules with his campaign fund.
Walter Bonner, Wilson's attorney, rejected any characterization that money Rogers gave Wilson was a kickback. "I don't think there's any connection between the money Mr. Wilson received from an old and well-to-do friend and the money that man received as a consultant on the congressman's staff."
Bonner said he was checking to see what duties Rogers performed for his congressional salary. He declined to explain why Rogers gave Wilson $15,500 during the time he was on the public payroll.
The defense lawyer also said he was "surprised and disturbed" that the many of the violations alleged in the committee charge dated back to the early 1970s. "We have a statute of limitations for criminal charges in this country," he said. The House committee has no such limitation for alleged ethical violations.