- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2008

A federal grand jury in Tucson, Ariz., indicted Rep. Rick Renzi yesterday on charges including extortion, money laundering, wire fraud and conspiracy.

The 35-count indictment says the Arizona Republican and a business partner misused the lawmaker”s public office to profit from a land-swap deal. It also says the congressman and another business 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.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Mr. Renzi should consider resigning.

“I have made it clear that I will hold our members to the highest standards of ethical conduct,” Mr. Boehner said. “The charges contained in this indictment are completely unacceptable for a member of Congress, and I strongly urge Rep. Renzi to seriously consider whether he can continue to effectively represent his constituents under these circumstances.

“I expect to meet with Rep. Renzi at the earliest possible opportunity to discuss this situation and the best option for his constituents, our conference and the American people.”

The Arizona Democratic Party sent voters an e-mail soliciting donations for a campaign to pressure Mr. Renzi to resign.

“Corruption in any form is inexcusable, but this violation of voters’ trust is sickening and it is time for Renzi to go,” Maria Weeg, the party’s executive director, said in the e-mail.

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 two are accused of embezzling more than $400,000 in insurance premiums from the trust account of the Patriot Insurance Agency Inc., an Arizona business owned by the Renzi family. The stolen money helped fund Mr. Renzi’s 2002 congressional campaign, the indictment says.

Arraignment 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 of 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.


These are the members of Congress who have been charged with crimes since 2000:

•Feb. 22, 2008: Rep. Rick Renzi, Arizona Republican, indicted on charges of extortion, wire fraud, money laundering and other crimes in an Arizona land swap that authorities say helped him collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in payoffs.

•June 4, 2007: Rep. William Jefferson, Louisiana Democrat, indicted on federal charges of racketeering, soliciting bribes and money laundering in a long-running bribery investigation into business deals he tried to broker in Africa.

•Jan. 19, 2007: Former Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican, sentenced to 2½ years in prison for trading political favors for gifts and campaign donations from lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

•March 3, 2006: Former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, California Republican, sentenced to eight years and four months in prison. He collected $2.4 million in homes, yachts, antique furnishings and other bribes in a corruption scheme.

•Oct. 3, 2005: Former Rep. Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, charged with felony money laundering and conspiracy in connection with Republican fundraising efforts in 2002. The conspiracy charge has been dropped and the two money laundering charges are being argued before a state appeals court.

•Aug. 29, 2003: Rep. William Janklow, South Dakota Republican, charged with felony second-degree manslaughter and three misdemeanors after his car struck and killed a motorcyclist. He was convicted of vehicular homicide and sentenced to 100 days in prison.

•May 4, 2001: Rep. James Traficant, Ohio Democrat, indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of tax evasion, bribery, racketeering, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. He was sentenced to eight years in prison after being convicted of racketeering and accepting bribes.

Source: Associated Press

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