- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2008

A federal grand jury in Tucson indicted Rep. Richard G. Renzi today on charges including extortion, money laundering, wire fraud and conspiracy.

The 35-count indictment against Mr. Renzi says the Arizona Republican and a business partner misused the lawmakers public office to profit from a land-swap deal. It also says he and another associate schemed to embezzle $400,000 from an insurance company owned by the Renzi family.

“Congressman Renzi misused his public office by forcing a land sale that would financially benefit himself and a business associate, and in so doing, he betrayed the trust of the citizens of Arizona,” U.S. Attorney Diane J. Humetewa said.

Mr. Renzi’s attorneys criticized the Department of Justice for “repeated leaks” to the press about the case and for announcing the indictment the day after Mr. Renzi buried his father, retired Army Maj. Gen. Eugene C. Renzi.

“We fear that the Department of Justice may have allowed the investigation to have been influenced by political considerations, which should never have a place in the administration of justice,” attorneys Reid H. Weingarten and Kelly B. Kramer said jointly.

“Congressman Renzi did nothing wrong,” they said. “We will fight these charges until he is vindicated and his family’s name is restored.”

Mr. Renzi, 49, a Flagstaff businessman and father of 12 children, was long targeted in an FBI corruption investigation. He announced in August that he would not seek a fourth term in Congress.

The 26-page indictment charges that Mr. Renzi and business partner James W. Sandlin, 56, of Sherman, Texas, conspired to force the $4.6 million sale of Arizona property in which they had a financial stake to participants in a federal land-exchange deal.

Mr. Renzi and Mr. Sandlin owned the land together before Mr. Sandlin bought out his partner for $1 million in 2003. Mr. Sandlin still owed Mr. Renzi $700,000 in 2005 when the congressman orchestrated the land-swap deal, the indictment said.

It said Mr. Renzi, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, pressured two separate buyers to purchase the property in exchange for his support on land-exchange legislation. He never disclosed his connection with the real estate or the $733,000 he pocketed in the transaction. Other charges involve violations of federal insurance laws by Mr. Renzi and business associate Andrew Beardall, 36, of Rockville. The pair are accused of embezzling more than $400,000 in insurance premiums from the trust account of the Patriot Insurance Agency Inc.,cq web an Arizona business owned by the Renzi family. The stolen money helped fund Mr. Renzi’s 2002 congressional campaign, the indictment says. An arraignment hearing is set for March 6 in Tucson. Other members of Congress facing corruption charges include Democratic Rep. William J. Jefferson of Louisiana, who was indicted in June on charges of bribery and racketeering. Former Rep. Mark D. Siljander, Michigan Republican, was indicted last month on charges of money laundering, conspiracy and obstruction of justice for aiding terrorists through a U.S.-based Islamic relief organization. The FBI is conducting a separate corruption investigation against Republicans Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, who is running for re-election, and Rep. John T. Doolittle of California, who is not seeking a 10th term.

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