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February 23, 2008

Rick Renzi

Rick Renzi has been showing us how politics is really done. Most enlightening actually, we should thank Rick Renzi for the lesson: once he gets out of jail that is.

A black cloud that hovered over U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi for more than a year finally collapsed on the Arizona congressman Friday when he was indicted on 35 counts of extortion, embezzlement, money-laundering and other crimes.

The 48-year-old Renzi, once a rising Republican in the nation's capital, now faces calls for resignation and a possible prison term and fines if he is convicted. He has already relinquished important committee assignments and announced he would not seek re-election this year.

Renzi could not be reached for comment. His attorneys in Washington, D.C., issued a statement Friday saying, "Congressman Renzi did nothing wrong. We will fight these charges until he is vindicated and his family's name is restored."

Well, it is true that Rick Renzi hsan't been convicted of anything yet, there's still the trial to come:

Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) used his position in Congress to influence a federal land-exchange deal, collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in payoffs, according to an indictment released yesterday. The 35-count indictment handed up by a federal grand jury in Tucson also accuses Renzi of separately embezzling corporate funds to bankroll his first House campaign. The indictment makes Renzi the fourth sitting lawmaker to face federal charges since 2005 in the Justice Department's continuing crackdown on public corruption, and it represents a fresh blow to congressional Republicans struggling with numerous allegations of ethical wrongdoing in their ranks. Renzi joins as targets of Justice Department prosecution convicted GOP Reps. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (Calif.) and Robert W. Ney (Ohio), as well as Democratic Rep. William J. Jefferson (La.), who is awaiting trial on bribery charges. Renzi, who was indicted along with two alleged co-conspirators after a federal investigation that took at least 16 months, is accused of conspiracy, money laundering and other crimes.

But the point becomes, why else would you go into politics if it wasn't to try and make money as it is alleged that Rick Renzi has done? Does anyone still believe people are doing this out of public service?

Extortion and money laundering are usually the province of gangsters, not Western Congressmen. That changed yesterday with the indictment of GOP Representative Rick Renzi of Arizona on charges that he used his seat on the House Natural Resources Committee to enrich himself through a trail of payoffs on land deals.

Prosecutors allege that Mr. Renzi used his clout to push land sales that could then be traded for other property owned by the federal government. Companies that wanted to trade acreage in exchange for federal land they considered promising for mining opportunities were encouraged to buy property belonging to one of Mr. Renzi's business partners. In return, they were promised a smooth ride with the committee on the land swaps. When the sales went through, the Congressman allegedly got a cut of the proceeds from his pal, at least $733,000.

Of course, political curruption is more normally a matter of promising benefits to those who pay for the re-election campaigns, rather than the personal pocket as here with Renzi: but that's a difference of degree, not a difference in kind:

Representative Rick Renzi, a Republican from Arizona who isn't seeking re-election, has been indicted by a federal grand jury in an alleged scheme to profit from a land deal. Renzi, 49, who was first elected to the House in 2002, was charged along with James Sandlin, 56, a real estate investor and one of his political backers, and Andrew Beardall, 36, an attorney who had been general counsel of Renzi's family insurance business. Renzi and Beardall are accused of embezzling money from insurance clients to fund the lawmaker's congressional campaign. ``Congressman Renzi misused his public office by forcing a land sale that would financially benefit himself and a business associate, and in so doing, he betrayed the trust of the citizens of Arizona,'' said U.S. Attorney Diane Humetewa of Phoenix in a statement. The Justice Department has been cracking down on public corruption, a campaign that has targeted lawmakers. Democratic Representative William Jefferson of Louisiana has pleaded innocent to bribery charges, and, in 2007, ex-Ohio Republican Representative Bob Ney was sentenced to 2½ years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy and making false statements in connection with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Renzi's Washington lawyers, Reid Weingarten and Kelly Kramer, issued a statement saying Renzi did ``nothing wrong'' and criticizing the Justice Department for bringing its case shortly after his father's death. ``We will fight these charges until he is vindicated and his family's name is restored,'' they said.

But don't forget, it's not just the land sales and the misuse of office:

Rep. Rick Renzi, a three-term Republican from Arizona, was charged in a federal indictment unsealed Friday with multiple counts of wrongdoing, including using his official position to promote a land deal that secretly brought millions to him and a business partner.

The indictment, handed up by a federal grand jury in Tucson late Thursday and revealed by Justice Department officials at a news conference Friday, charges Renzi with 35 counts, including extortion, money laundering and fraud. Aside from the land deal, Renzi, 49, was charged with illegally skimming hundreds of thousands of dollars from a closely held insurance firm he owned.

Yup, skimming off a business that he (part) owned to pay for his first election campaign seems to be the other charge.

An attorney for Congressman Rick Renzi (REN'-zee) says the Arizona Republican is not guilty of charges revealed today in a 26-page federal indictment.

Renzi and a former business partner are accused of conspiring to promote the sale of land that buyers could swap for property owned by the federal government. Renzi has been charged with extortion, wire fraud, money laundering and other related charges.

His attorney says Renzi "did nothing wrong," and that he will fight until "he is vindicated and his family's name is restored."

It is of course true that Rick Renzi is not guilty. He hasn't been convicted as yet. Whether he will be or not is therefore the interesting matter.

February 23, 2008 in Politics | Permalink


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