AZ congressman indicted in conspiracy

February 22, 2008 8:31:10 AM PST
Republican Rep. Rick Renzi was indicted Friday on charges of extortion, wire fraud, money laundering and other matters in an Arizona land swap scam that allegedly helped him collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in payoffs. 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.

Renzi is a three-term member of the House. He announced in August that he would not seek re-election.

As part of the alleged scam, Renzi and his former business partner, James W. Sandlin, concealed at least $733,000 that the congressman took for helping seal the land deals, the indictment says.

"Renzi was having financial difficulty throughout 2005 and needed a substantial infusion of funds to keep his insurance business solvent and to maintain his personal lifestyle," the indictment says.

The indictment accuses Renzi of using his position as a member of the House Natural Resources Committee to push the land swaps for Sandlin, who was also charged. It comes after a lengthy federal investigation into the land development and insurance businesses owned by Renzi's family.

The lengthy 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 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 company had expressly asked if there was one.

In addition, Sandlin paid Renzi $733,000 for his help in securing the land swap from the second business. Renzi failed to report the income on financial disclosure reports to Congress, as is required, the indictment says.

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