February 22, 2008 / 3:49 PM / 9 years ago

Rep. Renzi indicted on corruption charges

<p>Rep. Richard Renzi in an undated photo. A federal grand jury has indicted Renzi on 35 criminal counts including conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and official extortion, according to court papers unsealed on Friday.Files</p>

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican U.S. Rep. Richard Renzi of Arizona, a state co-chair for Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, was indicted on corruption charges stemming from land deals in his state, Justice Department officials said on Friday.

The 35-count indictment stemmed from plans by Renzi and a business associate, a real estate investor, to benefit from a land-exchange deal in Arizona in return for Renzi's support for necessary federal legislation, according to court documents.

McCain, who faced new scrutiny about his ethics this week, reacted to Renzi's indictment and told reporters in Indianapolis, "I'm sorry. I feel for the family. As you know he has 12 children."

There was no indication McCain was connected to the case.

The indictment handed up by a federal grand jury in Arizona said, "It was an object of the conspiracy for Renzi to enrich (his associate) and personally benefit himself."

The indictment, which included charges of conspiracy, fraud, money laundering and official extortion, also accused the three-term congressman of embezzling premiums from clients of an insurance business to fund his congressional campaign.

Renzi, who has had a solid conservative voting record since first being elected to Congress in 2002, also was accused of concealing his receipt of more than $733,000 from the associate in 2005.

His office in Washington declined to comment on the indictment, referring inquiries to his lawyer, Reid Weingarten, who was not immediately available.

In August, Renzi announced he would not seek a fourth term in the House of Representatives, joining a growing list of Republicans who plan to leave after this year. Twenty-five House Republicans are either retiring, running for other office or were defeated in a primary election.

Republicans lost control of the Congress to Democrats in the 2006 elections, largely because of a string of scandals, many of them tied to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Last month, Republican Rep. John Doolittle of California, under investigation for ties to Abramoff, announced he would not seek re-election. He did so, party sources said, in response to pressure from Republican leaders.

'Misused Office'

U.S. Attorney Diane Humetewa said, "Among the allegations contained in the indictment, 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."

Renzi has cast votes against withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq while supporting a ban on same-sex marriage and developing an Alaskan wildlife reserve for oil exploration. He has focused much of his efforts in Congress on American Indian issues.

Renzi stepped down from his seat on a House intelligence committee amid his legal problems.

The former insurance company owner and land developer was drawn into the continuing controversy over Bush administration firings of federal prosecutors. A Renzi congressional aide contacted a U.S. attorney in Arizona shortly before that prosecutor was fired, reportedly to inquire about a possible indictment against Renzi.

Also indicted were two business associates of Renzi -- James Sandlin, a real estate investor, and Andrew Beardall. An arraignment for the three defendants has been set for March 6 in federal court in Tucson, the Justice Department said.

Reporting by Randall Mikkelsen, James Vicini, Richard Cowan, Thomas Ferraro and Jason Szep; Editing by Eric Walsh

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