Congressman Indicted for Fraud, Extortion

A statement from Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., says he will fight the charges.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 12:18 AM

Feb. 22, 2008 — -- A federal grand jury in Arizona has indicted three-term Republican Congressman Rick Renzi and two of his business associates on charges that include wire fraud, money laundering, insurance fraud and extortion.

The 35-count indictment alleges that between December 2001 and March 2002, Renzi embezzled $400,000 in insurance premiums from a company that he owned and transferred the money to his congressional campaign.

Renzi transferred ownership of the company, called Patriot Insurance Agency Inc., to his wife in 2004.

The lawmaker is also accused of enriching himself by compelling a copper mining interest, referred to as "Company A" in the indictment, to buy a parcel of land from his associate James Sandlin in exchange for his sponsorship of legislation sought by Company A.

When negotiations for the sale were stalled, Renzi allegedly told Company A "no Sandlin Property, no bill."

Sandlin owed Renzi $700,000 for property and paid $733,000 to Renzi when the sale went through, the indictment alleges. Prosecutors say Renzi failed to disclose the debt and the payment, something that he as a member of Congress is required to do by law.

Sandlin, of Sherman, Texas, was also indicted for his alleged role in the property deal. Another Renzi business associate, Andrew Beardall of Rockville, Md., faces charges stemming from the alleged embezzlement of the $400,000 from Patriot Insurance Agency.

A statement released by Renzi's attorneys Reid Weingarten and Kelly Kramer was critical of the timing of the charges.

On Thursday, Renzi buried his father, Maj. Gen. Eugene Renzi, at Arlington National Cemetery.

"We are disappointed that the Department of Justice would not allow a decent amount of time to pass to allow a son to mourn the passing of his father," the statement said. It also stated that Renzi did nothing wrong and will fight the charges. He and his codefendants are scheduled to appear in federal court in Arizona on March 6.

Renzi's attorneys also suggested that the prosecution may have been politically motivated. "We fear that the Department of Justice may have allowed the investigation to have been influenced by political considerations, which should never have a place in the administration of justice."

News reports of the federal investigation into Renzi last year coincided with the firing of Paul Charlton, the U.S. attorney from Arizona.