Diggs Claims He Can’t Repay Money Gained From Kickback Scheme
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Former Michigan congressman Charles Diggs Jr. is out to prove he can’t afford to repay most of the $40,000 he promised the government after his 1978 conviction for running a payroll kickback scheme in the House.
The U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia, trying to collect on the languishing debt, is checking out the reliability of information Diggs provided about his earnings, assets and liabilities, Assistant U.S. Attorney Royce Lambert said Thursday.
″He professed to be cooperative and said he doesn’t have the money,″ Lambert said. ″I’m really not sure whether we’ll ever get any money.″
Diggs, a Democrat who represented Detroit in Congress for 13 terms, resigned from the House in 1980 and served seven months of a three-year prison sentence.
His resignation came two years after he was convicted of 11 counts of mail fraud and 18 counts of filing falsified congressional payroll forms, and one year after he was censured by the House and signed a promissory note agreeing to repay $40,031.
About $5,000 in principal and interest was deducted from his paychecks before he left Congress. But with interest accruing on the amount remaining, Lambert estimated about $48,000 is now owed.
″He’s been very cooperative and willing to give us whatever information he can to satisfy us that he really doesn’t have the money to pay us,″ Lambert said.
″We try to treat him like we would other debtors to the government,″ he said. ″We determine whether we should proceed with a lawsuit or whether we can work out some kind of voluntary repayment plan.″
Lambert said he decided to try to collect on the long-overdue debt after reading press reports indicating neither the House nor the Treasury thought it was responsible for collecting the money.
Contacted about the repayment issue Thursday in a Maryland suburb where he is a funeral director, Diggs said: ″I don’t answer any questions over the telephone.″
Diggs once was the nation’s senior black congressman. He founded the Black Congressional Caucus, and chaired the House Committee on the District of Columbia and the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa.
He receives a $45,840 annual pension for his service in Congress, according to the Office of Personnel Management.
He has tried repeatedly to regain his Michigan mortician’s license, which was revoked by the State Board of Mortuary Examiners under a law that says licensed professionals can lose their standing due to a ″lack of good moral character.″
Diggs filed suit to force the board to relicense him, but Ingham County Circuit Judge Jack Warren last April dismissed the suit.