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Arizona’s Renzi indicted on graft charges

- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2008

Retiring Rep. Rick Renzi was indicted Thursday on federal racketeering charges related to previous charges that he funded his campaign with money he embezzled and used his position in Congress to commit extortion.

The Arizona Republican originally was indicted on corruption charges in February. Mr. Renzi, who owns an insurance agency, previously has pleaded not guilty.

He is a three-term congressman who did not seek re-election this year.

According to the indictment, which was unsealed Thursday, Mr. Renzi embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from insurance premiums paid to his company to fund his campaign and other personal expenses.

His company specialized in providing coverage to nonprofit groups, and stealing the premiums led to a lapse in coverage or some groups for several months, according to the indictment.

Mr. Renzi also is accused of telling two companies he would use his position in Congress to help them if they purchased land from James W. Sandlin, who is also under indictment.

But the companies didn't know Mr. Sandlin owed Mr. Renzi $700,000, which was paid after the sale of the properties to the two companies, which are not named in the indictment.

Mr. Renzi didn't include that money on his congressional financial disclosure forms, according to the indictment. Part of that money was used to pay back the money he stole from the customers of his insurance agency, the indictment states.

Last month, Mr. Renzi's attorneys filed a motion to dismiss on the constitutional grounds known as the "speech and debate clause," which protects members of Congress from prosecution for carrying out acts related to their office.

His attorneys also argued that prosecutors improperly recorded phone conversations between Mr. Renzi and his attorneys in violation of attorney/client privilege protections.

Prosecutors have filed a motion opposing dismissal, and a judge has not yet ruled.

Similar arguments using the "speech and debate clause" were rejected in the criminal cases of two other elected officials, Rep. William J. Jefferson, Louisiana Democrat, and Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican.

Mr. Renzi's seat will go to former Arizona state lawmaker Ann Kirkpatrick, who beat out Republican Sydney Hay last week. The election of Ms. Kirkpatrick helped Democrats expand their majority in the House.