Former Congressman Richard G. Renzi Sentenced for Extortion and Bribery in Illegal Federal Land Swap
Former U.S. Congressman Rick Renzi was sentenced today to serve 36 months in prison following his June conviction by a federal jury in Tucson, Ariz., for extortion, bribery, insurance fraud, money laundering and racketeering. Renzi’s co-defendant, James Sandlin, was also sentenced today to serve 18 months in prison for his role in the extortion, bribery and money laundering scheme.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth A. Strange of the District of Arizona, Special Agent in Charge Douglas G. Price of the FBI’s Phoenix Division, and Special Agent in Charge Dawn Mertz of the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) made the announcement following sentencing by Senior U.S. District Judge David C. Bury.
Renzi, 55, of Burke, Va., and Sandlin, 62, of Sherman, Texas, were convicted on June 11, 2013. Renzi 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. Sandlin was convicted of 13 felony offenses including conspiracy, honest services wire fraud, extortion under color of official right and money laundering.
“Mr. Renzi abused the power – and the corresponding trust – that comes with being a member of Congress by putting his own financial interests over the interests of the citizens he had sworn to serve,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Raman. “He fleeced his own insurance company to fund his run for Congress, and then exploited his position for personal gain. Mr. Renzi’s conviction and today’s sentence demonstrate the Justice Department’s commitment to fighting corruption at the highest levels of government.”
“Former Congressman Renzi disregarded his oath to uphold the law, ignoring the interests of the people he was elected to serve in favor of his own interests,” stated First Assistant U.S. Attorney Strange. “The sentences imposed today reinforce the fundamental principle that no one, including an elected official, is above the law.”
“When our elected officials betray the trust of the American people it strikes at the very core of our democracy,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Price. “The sentencing of former Congressman Rick Renzi illustrates the commitment by the FBI and our law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute corruption at all levels. Today’s sentencing is a reminder that when a public official violates the public's trust they will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
“The public expects its elected officials to be honest, to be trustworthy and to show respect for the law," stated IRS Special Agent in Charge Mertz. “Those in public office should be held to a higher standard and are not exempt from criminal prosecution. The prison sentence imposed today should serve as a wake-up call to other public officials who believe there are no consequences for betraying the public trust.”
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 proponents of the land exchange that he would not support it unless they purchased Sandlin’s property in Cochise County, Ariz. When they 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 subsequently sent false letters to his insurance customers and provided false statements to various state regulators who were investigating his activities.
This case was investigated by the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation. The prosecution was handled by Trial Attorneys David Harbach and Sean Mulryne of the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Gary Restaino and James Knapp of the District of Arizona.