By Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
Embattled Republican Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) pleaded guilty Tuesday to a single count of tax evasion, according to federal court records.
Grimm was indicted in April on federal charges including mail fraud, wire fraud, tax evasion, employing undocumented workers and perjury in relation to a Manhattan fast-food restaurant he once co-owned and operated.
In a 20-count indictment, federal prosecutors accused Grimm of underreporting his employees’ wages to the Internal Revenue Service, paying them in envelopes full of cash, and said he had lied under oath when he claimed he was not responsible for handling payroll.
Grimm sold his interest in the restaurant before taking office in 2011, according to prosecutors.
The trial was set to begin in February, according to the Associated Press. If convicted, Grimm could have faced a sentence of anywhere from six months for hiring undocumented workers to 20 years for each of the mail and wire fraud charges, prosecutors said.
The Staten Island Republican, a former FBI special agent and Marine, has called himself the victim of a political witch hunt.
Controversy has dogged the congressman, who was just elected to his third term, for years.
Federal prosecutors first began investigating Grimm in a probe of an alleged “donor swapping” scheme designed to skirt individual contribution limits to candidates.
In January, Grimm threatened to throw a New York TV reporter off a balcony and break him in half “like a boy” for asking him about the allegations on camera. Video of the incident quickly went viral, and he was pilloried by pundits and on late-night shows.
Despite the controversy, Grimm won re-election in November.
“I know who I am and I know what I’ve done for this country,” Grimm told reporters after pleading not guilty in April. “I know I’m a moral man, a man of integrity. I also know that I have a lot more service and leadership to provide this country, and that’s exactly what I intend to do.”
But Tuesday’s guilty plea renewed questions about his future in Congress, as Democratic leaders called for his ouster.
In a statement released Tuesday ahead of Grimm’s plea, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) released a statement calling on House Speaker John Boehner to “insist that Congressman Grimm resign immediately.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also called for Grimm’s resignation. “It’s past time for Michael Grimm to go and it’s John Boehner’s responsibility to make it happen,” said Josh Schwerin, a DCCC spokesman, in a statement. Schwerin said allowing Grimm to stay in Congress despite his guilt “is a disservice to the people of Staten Island and Brooklyn and a stain on the institution of the United States House of Representatives.”
Boehner’s office had no immediate comment.
“We won’t have any announcements until the speaker discusses the matter with Mr. Grimm,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner.
Grimm has previously that if he was convicted, he would step down from Congress. “Certainly, if I was not able to serve, then of course I would step aside,” he said at a debate in October, according to the Associated Press.
(Staff writers Michael Memoli and Richard Serrano contributed to this report.)
AFP Photo/Alex Wong
This story has been updated.