NewsMakers: Trey Radel
Sizes up the fiscal cliff.
NAPLES — A financial disclosure form filed with the U.S. House the day after freshman Congressman Trey Radel was elected Nov. 6 paints an entirely different picture of Radel's assets than had been publicly known during the campaign.
The typewritten, 15-page form amends an earlier hand-written, four-page disclosure form that Radel filed with the Clerk of the House in April. Both forms cover the period from Jan. 1, 2011, to Feb. 29, 2012.
For the first time, the new form reveals details of significant assets associated with the estates of his late grandmother and late mother. Radel has said his mother's estate was the source of at least some of the $206,000 he loaned to his campaign in the waning days of a GOP primary that found him on the defensive against opponents' attack ads.
The former TV anchor and conservative radio talk show host said the omission of the inheritance from the April form was inadvertent and was caused by his family accountant's unfamiliarity with federal election laws.
"I take full responsibility for that," Radel said. "We're here to do whatever we can to rectify it and that's what we're doing."
As for the Nov. 7 timing of the amended filing, Radel said that was "just the dates that unfolded." A cover letter from Radel's attorney explaining the amended form is dated Nov. 2.
"I wish we had done it sooner," Radel said, adding that it would have helped answer questions that arose last summer over the source of the loan to Radel's campaign.
Radel's first filing was incomplete because neither he nor his accountant realized the need to report beneficial interests in family partnerships, estates and trusts even if they do not generate income; a legal tangle of pending estate matters further complicated the filing, according to the lawyer's letter.
Radel had no income from those items during the reporting period, which ended March 1, said Radel's lawyer, Larry Levy, with the Bracewell & Giuliani firm in New York.
Radel has said he received money from his mother's estate last June. His family was in the funeral home business.
According to the new financial disclosure form, the assets of the two estate trusts range from $866,000 to as much as $2.1 million. They include interests in a family limited partnership, a realty company, cash and fund investments.
Radel also inherited an interest in the family partnership, valued at between $500,000 and $1 million, that didn't pass through either estate. Radel had no access to the funds because the transfer was tied up in court, according to Levy's letter.
Finally, the new form lists an Individual Retirement Account, valued at between $500,000 and $1 million, that he inherited from his mother but from which he hasn't taken any money, according to the letter.
The disclosure forms only require the reporting of a broad range of dollar amounts, not a specific figure.
The amended form also adds a handful of investment funds Radel overlooked in the initial filing, a retirement account and checking account owned by Radel's wife, former TV anchor Amy Wegmann, and Radel's one-third interest in a family vacation property.
The new form adds Radel's position as president of U.S. Forces Fund, an inactive charity that raises money to adapt homes for severely injured military personnel, and adds a $5,000 payment to Trey Communications.
Radel also inaccurately listed on the initial form that he jointly owned a rental condominium in Miami, but the new form lists the condo as being owned solely by Radel.
Radel's opponent in November's general election, Cape Coral Democrat Jim Roach, said Radel was "negligent" in not checking out the federal disclosure laws better but that the financial status of the candidates didn't seem to be an issue for voters.
"You would think someone running for an office, who would be spending tax dollars and writing laws for how to spend tax dollars, would pay more attention to financial forms," Roach said.
Errors on financial disclosure forms are common, and most of them are inadvertent, the House Committee on Ethics wrote in a report this summer outlining its decision to take no action against U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Republican from the Sarasota area, for not reporting positions he had with six entities and income from them on disclosure statements in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.
The committee said between 30 percent and 50 percent of all financial disclosure forms have errors or require corrected statements to be filed. In 95 percent of the cases, lawmakers seemed not to have known of the errors until they were notified by the committee, the media or watchdog groups, the committee report said.
In Radel's case, he took steps to correct the errors on his own and is entitled to a "presumption of good faith," attorney Levy wrote to the Clerk of the House.
"We trust the self-initiated corrections to his financial disclosure, made during the same election cycle as the initial report, demonstrates Mr. Radel's commitment to ethics and complete disclosure," Levy wrote in his letter.
Knowingly submitting false financial disclosure forms carries a maximum penalty of up to a year in prison and a $50,000 fine. A late filing fee of $200 also might be assessed.
Radel isn't facing any ethics investigation or fines, Levy said.
More details of Radel's finances, including any income he received from the estates, would be included on another financial disclosure form due in May.
"I've got nothing to hide," Radel said.