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GOP Congressman indicted for extortion, money laundering
Nick Juliano
Published: Friday February 22, 2008

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Republican Rep. Rick Renzi has been indicted for extortion, wire fraud, money laundering and other charges related to a land deal in Arizona.

A 26-page federal indictment unsealed in Arizona accuses Renzi and two former business partners of conspiring to promote the sale of land that buyers could swap for property owned by the federal government. The sale netted one of Renzi's former partners $4.5 million.

Nearly a year ago, as RAW STORY reported, the embattled congressman denied newspaper reports and rumors that he planned on resigning, as the FBI probed. The congressman did relinquish all three of his House committee assignments, including his seat on the House Intelligence Committee. He has since decided not to run for re-election.

Renzi also is a co-chairman of Republican presidential candidate John McCain's Arizona leadership team. And the Arizona Senator aided Renzi's re-election bid.

Speaking to reporters at a campaign stop in Indiana Thursday, McCain, an Arizona senator, demurred when asked about the indictment.

"I'm sorry. I feel for the family; as you know, he has 12 children," McCain told reporters, according to the Associated Press. "But I don't know enough of the details to make a judgment. These kinds of things are always very unfortunate.... I rely on our Department of Justice and system of justice to make the right outcome."

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) is reportedly urging Renzi to resign, according to The Hill. "I have made it clear that I will hold our members to the highest standards of ethical conduct," Boehner is quoted as saying in a statement. "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."

Renzi was under FBI investigation before the 2006 mid-term elections, but the Justice Department delayed approving necessary investigation tools for federal investigators in Arizona before November.

In April 2007, federal agents raided a Sonoita, Arizona business owned by Renzi's wife, Roberta. At the timeSpeculation mounted that former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales may have intervened to slow down the probe before Renzi was re-elected.

The AP summed up the indictment as follows:

The extensive legal document says Renzi refused in 2005 and 2006 to secure congressional approval for land swaps by two unnamed businesses if they did not agree to buy [former Renzi business partner James W.] Sandlin's property as a part of the deal.

Renzi had previously owned some of Sandlin's property, the indictment says.

In early 2005, one of the businesses seeking surface rights for a copper mining project in Renzi's district failed to buy Sandlin's land. As a result, the indictment says, Renzi allegedly told the business, "No Sandlin property, no bill."

At the time, Sandlin owed Renzi $700,000 out of the land's selling price of $800,000. Renzi also allegedly concealed his business relationship with Sandlin, even though the company had expressly asked if there was one.

Meanwhile, Renzi allegedly pushed the land on a second firm, an unnamed investment group, that was trying to secure a federal land swap. If the firm accepted Sandlin's property as part of the transaction, Renzi allegedly said investors would receive a "free pass" through the House Natural Resources Committee, according to the indictment.

In April 2005, the investors reluctantly agreed to the deal.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, an independent ethics watchdog, listed Renzi in its annual "Beyond DeLay" report on corruption in Congress.


(with wire reports)