Arizona's Rep. Renzi Is Indicted In Land Deal
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) used his position in Congress to influence a federal land-exchange deal, collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in payoffs, according to an indictment released yesterday.
The 35-count indictment handed up by a federal grand jury in Tucson also accuses Renzi of separately embezzling corporate funds to bankroll his first House campaign.
The indictment makes Renzi the fourth sitting lawmaker to face federal charges since 2005 in the Justice Department's continuing crackdown on public corruption, and it represents a fresh blow to congressional Republicans struggling with numerous allegations of ethical wrongdoing in their ranks.
Renzi joins as targets of Justice Department prosecution convicted GOP Reps. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (Calif.) and Robert W. Ney (Ohio), as well as Democratic Rep. William J. Jefferson (La.), who is awaiting trial on bribery charges.
Renzi, who was indicted along with two alleged co-conspirators after a federal investigation that took at least 16 months, is accused of conspiracy, money laundering and other crimes.
"These charges represent allegations that Congressman Renzi defrauded the public of his unbiased, honest services as an elected official," said Alice Fisher, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's criminal division.
Renzi's attorneys, Reid H. Weingarten and Kelly B. Kramer, released a statement yesterday proclaiming their client's innocence. "Congressman Renzi did nothing wrong. We will fight these charges until he is vindicated and his family's name is restored," they said.
The two lawyers also complained that the Justice Department charged Renzi while he was mourning his father, retired Army Maj. Gen. Eugene C. Renzi, who died Feb. 9 and was buried Thursday.
"We are disappointed that the Department of Justice would not allow a decent amount of time to pass to allow a son to mourn the passing of his father," Weingarten and Kramer said.
Renzi is one of more than two dozen Arizona "co-chairs" of Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign. At a campaign stop yesterday in Indianapolis, McCain told the Associated Press: "I feel for the family. . . . But I don't know enough of the details to make a judgment."
Renzi's indictment centers primarily on allegations that the three-term House member pressured two parties interested in acquiring federal land, which required congressional approval, to purchase property from a former Renzi business partner who owed the lawmaker $700,000. He allegedly succeeded with one of them, allowing his former partner, James W. Sandlin, to pay off the debt. Sandlin also was indicted yesterday on similar charges.
Renzi also is charged with embezzling $400,000 from his own insurance company to fund his 2002 House campaign. Andrew Beardall, a Rockville lawyer who served as president and general counsel of the company, was accused of aiding that effort.