Fraud Charges Stick to Congressman Rick Renzi

     TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) – A federal jury on Tuesday convicted former U.S. Congressman Rick Renzi and his business partner on corruption charges.
     The former Arizona Republican lawmaker, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2003 to 2009, was found guilty of 17 felony offenses, including conspiracy, honest services wire fraud, extortion under color of official right, racketeering, money laundering and making false statements to insurance regulators.
     James Sandlin, Renzi’s former business partner, was found guilty of 13 felony offenses, including conspiracy, honest services wire fraud, extortion under color of official right and money laundering
     The two face potentially long prison sentences. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 19 in Tucson before U.S. District Judge David Bury. Renzi’s attorney told the Associated Press on Tuesday that he would appeal the convictions.
     Prosecutors said Renzi made various promises and threats to use his influence as a lawmaker so that he could push through a public land exchange for a copper mine. The proceeds from that deal would allegedly help Sandlin repay Renzi a $700,000 debt.
     Prosecutors also told the jury that, from 2001 to 2003, Renzi committed insurance fraud by using his clients’ insurance premiums to fund his first congressional campaign.
     “Former Congressman Renzi’s streak of criminal activity was a betrayal of the public trust and abuse of the political process,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Raman said in a statement. “After years of misconduct as a businessman, political candidate and member of Congress, Mr. Renzi now faces the consequences for breaking the laws that he took an oath to support and defend.”
     Renzi went to the 9th Circuit in his quest to quash the indictment, claiming that the land deal was part of his work as a member of Congress. In doing so, Renzi attempted to broaden the interpretation of the speech or debate clause of the U.S. Constitution, which generally relieves members of Congress from the threat of prosecution over the nuts and bolts of lawmaking.
     The 9th Circuit shot him down , and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to step in.
     Renzi and Sandlin also face a civil complaint in Arizona related to the land deal.
     In 2012, American Land Holdings, Preserve Petrified Land Investors and C.A.K. Limited Partners claimed in a federal complaint that they had approached the lawmaker in 2005, “seeking his support for a proposal to swap some 15,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land near Petrified Forest National Park, and property near the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation near Tucson, for federally owned land elsewhere in the state.”
     During the meeting, Renzi, then a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, told the developers they would have to buy property owned by Sandlin as a condition of his support, according to the complaint.
     “Renzi insisted the Aries Group purchase the Sandlin property and include that property as part of the group’s land exchange proposal,” the developers said. “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 failed, however, to disclose that Sandlin “owed Renzi $700,000.00 in principal on an $800,000.00 promissory note,” the complaint states.
     A federal judge refused to dismiss the civil action in February.

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