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Tuesday, July 16, 2024 | Back issues
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Ex-Congressman From Arizona Headed to Prison

(CN) - Former U.S. Congressman Rick Renzi, an Arizona Republican, will serve three years in prison for money laundering, fraud, extortion and other corruption charges.

The sentence comes four months after 55-year-old Renzi's jury conviction on 17 felony charges.

Renzi had been a member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 2003 when he was indicted in 2008. Prosecutors said the Flagstaff man had exploited his legislative influence to profit from a federal land exchange that involved property owned by James Sandlin, a real-estate investor.

Sandlin owed Renzi $700,000, and when proponents refused to buy Sandlin's property, Renzi promised to support the exchange, but never introduced the promised land-exchange bill.

Sandlin paid Renzi $733,000 after the land was sold.

The congressman also allegedly diverted his insurance clients' premiums from 2001 to 2003 to fund his first congressional campaign.

A racketeering lawsuit filed against Renzi by the developers in July 2012 claims that "Renzi represented to the Aries Group that the Sandlin property was environmentally sensitive and should be federally owned. Renzi told the Aries Group their land exchange proposal would receive a 'free pass' through the Natural Resources Committee if they purchased the Sandlin Property and included it in their proposal."

Renzi sought to avoid prosecution by claiming a privilege that protects lawmakers from prosecution for legislative acts, but the 9th Circuit found that his acts "were not privileged because Renzi had only promised to support future legislation through future acts."

According to the sentencing judgment, Renzi must also pay a $25,000 fine and turn himself in for the sentence on Jan. 6, 2014.

"Mr. Renzi abused the power - and the corresponding trust - that comes with being a member of Congress by putting his own financial interests over the interests of the citizens he had sworn to serve," Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman said in a statement. "He fleeced his own insurance company to fund his run for Congress, and then exploited his position for personal gain."

Sandlin, 62, was sentenced to 18 months on 13 convictions including conspiracy, extortion under color of official right, and money laundering.

"Former Congressman Renzi disregarded his oath to uphold the law, ignoring the interests of the people he was elected to serve in favor of his own interests," First Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Strange said in a statement. "The sentences imposed today reinforce the fundamental principle that no one, including an elected official, is above the law."

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