A jury convicted former Rep. Rick Renzi of 17 out of 32 counts in his federal corruption trial in Tucson, Ariz., Tuesday, including convictions for wire fraud, conspiracy and extortion stemming from his time in office.
The convictions are more than five years in the making; Renzi decided not to run for re-election in 2008 and gave up his committee assignments under pressure from then-Minority Leader John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, but continued to declare his innocence over the years.
Renzi was found guilty of 17 felonies including conspiracy, honest services wire fraud, extortion under color of official right, racketeering, money laundering and making false statements to insurance regulators, the Justice Department said in a statement.
A co-defendent in the federal land swap scheme, James W. Sandlin, 62, of Sherman, Texas, was found guilty of 13 felonies, including conspiracy, honest services wire fraud, extortion under color of official right and money laundering.
“Former Congressman Renzi’s streak of criminal activity was a betrayal of the public trust and abuse of the political process,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman. “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.”
“Our democracy is undermined whenever our elected officials misuse the power entrusted to them by the voters to serve their own private interests rather than in the service of the public interest,” said U.S. Attorney John Leonardo. “The jury’s verdict reinforces the fundamental principle that our society is governed by the rule of law, and that no citizen, including the most influential and powerful among us, is above the law.”
“Today’s conviction is a culmination of the investigative efforts of the FBI and IRS-Criminal Investigation over a period of several years,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Douglas F. Price. “Public corruption is one of the top criminal priorities of the FBI, and it is imperative that elected public officials be held accountable to uphold the public’s trust. The FBI remains committed to this criminal priority in combating public corruption at all levels.”
The government said Renzi promised in 2005 to use his influence as a Member of Congress to profit from a federal land exchange that involved property owned by Sandlin. At the time, Sandlin owed Renzi $700,000. Renzi promised to support a land exchange for a mining operation if the buyer also bought Sandlin’s property. Sandlin ultimately paid Renzi $733,000 of the proceeds from the scheme.
Renzi also engaged in insurance fraud by diverting premiums to fund his Congressional campaign from 2001 to 2003 and provided false statements, the government said.
Renzi theoretically could spend a long time in federal prison.
Honest services wire fraud, extortion under color of official right, concealment money laundering and racketeering each carry maximum penalties of 20 years in prison. Conspiracy carries a maximum of five years in prison, and making false statements to insurance regulators and transactional money laundering each carry maximum penalties of 10 years.
Sentencing is set before U. S. District Judge David C. Bury on Aug. 19, 2013.
It’s worth checking out Roll Call’s 2008 story after Renzi’s indictment was announced. The indictment itself came nearly three years after investigators started probing the Arizona Republican.
The trial was delayed for years by pre-trial motions, including a lengthy dispute over whether the evidence in Renzi’s case was protected under the Constitution’s Speech and Debate Clause. Renzi lost that bid on appeal. Earlier, the judge in the case threw out wiretap evidence after learning the FBI had taped conversations between Renzi and his attorney.