Flagstaff, AZ – Host Intro:
Northern Arizona Congressman Rick Renzi was indicted today on charges of extortion, wire fraud and money laundering in a scam involving a land swap. He's also accused of illegally funding his first run for Congress. Arizona Public Radio's Daniel Kraker reports.
The 26 page indictment released this morning alleges two courses of criminal activity. The first charges Renzi with embezzling over 400 thousand dollars in insurance premiums from the trust account of his family's insurance business to fund his first Congressional campaign. But the main focus of the indictment accuses Renzi of offering to engineer a federal land swap, but only if it included land owned by his former business partner James Sandlin. Arizona district attorney Diane Humetewa explained the charge at a press conference this morning.
And in so doing, Congressman Renzi deprived the citizens of AZ of their rights to his honest services as a US elected representative.
According to the indictment, Sandlin used part of the proceeds from the sale to repay a 700 thousand dollar debt he owed Renzi. The government says Renzi was having financial difficulties at the time, and needed an infusion of cash to maintain his lifestyle.
Renzi's attorneys did not return calls for comment. But in a statement they accused the government of allowing quote, political considerations, to influence its investigation. They also criticized the justice department for announcing the indictment the day after Renzi's father's funeral.
Renzi has already announced he will not run for a fourth term in November. The question now is whether he will resign before his term expires. If he resigns by the first week of May, that would trigger a special election. Northern Arizona University pollster Fred Solop says a condensed campaign could neutralize any advantage a Democratic candidate may have in November.
Solop: We'd have a very different republican candidate, we wouldn't have a person who has a house in VA, we'd have a person who has ties to the district, who has a record in the district, Republicans would look to distinguish a candidate from Rick Renzi.
Renzi will be officially charged at an arraignment hearing in Tucson on March 6th.
For Arizona Public Radio, I'm Daniel Kraker in Flagstaff.