TUCSON - A former U.S. Congressman and a real-estate investor were convicted Tuesday by a federal jury in Tucson, Ariz., of conspiring together to extort and bribe individuals seeking a federal land exchange, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department's Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney John Leonardo of the District of Arizona.
Richard G. Renzi, 55, of Burke, Va., was found guilty of 17 felony offenses including conspiracy, honest services wire fraud, extortion under color of official right, racketeering, money laundering and making false statements to insurance regulators.
James W. Sandlin, 62, of Sherman, Texas, was found guilty of 13 felony offenses including conspiracy, honest services wire fraud, extortion under color of official right and money laundering.
Sentencing is set before U. S. District Judge David C. Bury on August 19, 2013.
"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 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."
U.S. Attorney John Leonardo stated, "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. 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."
FBI Special Agent in Charge Douglas G. Price stated, "Today's conviction is a culmination of the investigative efforts of the FBI and IRS-Criminal Investigation over a period of several years. 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."
According to evidence at trial, Renzi, then a member of Congress from Arizona's 1st Congressional District, promised in 2005 to use his legislative influence to profit from a federal land exchange that involved property owned by Sandlin, a real-estate investor.
At the time, Sandlin owed Renzi $700,000 in future payments from their business dealings, and Renzi threatened a proponent of the land exchange that he would not support it unless they purchased Sandlin's property in Cochise County, Ariz. When that individual refused, Renzi promised a second proponent of a land exchange that he would support the exchange if they purchased Sandlin's property. According to an agreement reached in May 2005, Sandlin was paid $1 million in earnest money, out of which he paid $200,000 to Renzi. Just before Sandlin received the $1.6 million balance owed on the exchange, he paid an additional $533,000 to Renzi.
Evidence at trial further showed that from 2001 to 2003, Renzi engaged in insurance fraud by diverting his clients' insurance premiums to fund his first campaign for Congress, and he provided false statements to various state regulators who were investigating his activities.
Renzi was indicted in February 2008, and in October 2008, Renzi moved to dismiss the indictment under his rights as a member of Congress under the Speech or Debate Clause. The court denied his motion in February 2010, and Renzi pursued an interlocutory appeal. After Renzi's appeal was unsuccessful, trial was set for May 2013.
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 penalty of five years in prison, and making false statements to insurance regulators and transactional money laundering each carry maximum penalties of 10 years in prison.
This case was investigated by the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation. The prosecution was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Gary Restaino and James Knapp of the District of Arizona and Trial Attorneys David Harbach and Sean Mulryne of the Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section.