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Lawmaker Leaves Panel After FBI Search

The Associated Press
Friday, April 20, 2007; 8:49 PM

WASHINGTON -- Arizona Republican Rep. Rick Renzi, whose wife's business was searched by the FBI on Thursday, says he will temporarily step down from the House Intelligence Committee.

Law enforcement officials confirmed in October that they were scrutinizing a land deal that would benefit a Renzi friend and business associate who was also a campaign donor.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Friday that Renzi told him of the search and volunteered to step down from the committee, which has some oversight authority over the FBI, "to avoid any unnecessary distractions on the panel and its critical work."

Spokesmen for the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office in Arizona declined to comment. A lawyer for Renzi did not return repeated calls for comment.

Renzi has denied any wrongdoing. In a statement issued late Thursday, he acknowledged that the FBI had taken documents from the family business.

"I view these actions as the first step in bringing out the truth," Renzi said. "Until this matter is resolved, I will take a leave of absence from the House Intelligence Committee. I intend to fully cooperate with this investigation."

Personal financial disclosure forms filed with the House last May show Renzi's wife, Roberta, owned the Patriot Insurance Agency Inc. It was valued at between $1 million and $5 million.

The agency is located in a sprawling ranch-style home in Sonoita, Ariz., which is not in Renzi's congressional district.

A reporter who knocked on the door Friday was directed to Tucson, Ariz., lawyer Mick Rusing, who was not immediately available for comment. A white vehicle in the garage displayed a decorative license plate that said, "Rick Renzi for Congress."

The raid on Renzi's business happened the same day that Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., temporarily stepped down from the House Appropriations Committee.

Renzi disclosed the raid and stepped down immediately. Doolittle disclosed that agents had raided his Virginia home only after it became public several days later.

It also comes a day after Senate Judiciary Committee members grilled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year, including Arizona's Paul Charlton.

Democrats have demanded to know whether the firings were related to political corruption investigations by the prosecutors. Charlton's office opened its investigation into Renzi sometime before the 2006 election. Charlton was fired Dec. 7.

Few new details were available Friday linking the Patriot Insurance Agency to the land deal officials have acknowledged they were investigating.

That deal involved an October 2005 land sale, which Renzi helped promote. The sale netted a former business partner, James Sandlin, $4.5 million.


Associated Press writer Arthur H. Rotstein in Tucson, Ariz., contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Associated Press