Rick Renzi Indicted
"Republican Rep. Richard Renzi of Arizona was indicted on 35 criminal counts, including conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and official extortion stemming from land deals in his state, Justice Department officials said on Friday."
The indictment, if true, is pretty damning. Paul Kiel at TPMMuckraker summarizes the charges:
"The charges boil down to this, basically. Renzi (who's already said he won't seek re-election) is charged with doing everything he can as a congressman to strong-arm others into buying land from his buddy James Sandlin -- Sandlin then allegedly kicked back sizable chunks of cash back to Renzi in a series of complicated financial transactions (thus the money laundering charge). The main details of these charges were reported by the Arizona papers and The Wall Street Journal last year.
Update: Yikes. In a completely separate matter, the indictment charges Renzi with a conspiracy to "embezzle and misappropriate client premiums [from his insurance company] to fund his congressional campaign.""
According to the indictment, the extortion connected with the land swap was pretty blatant: at one point, Renzi told one of the companies he was trying to pressure into buying a property from his friend (Sandlin): "No Sandlin property, no bill." I don't think it gets more obvious than that. (I should note here that I love legal language: the indictment describes this as being, among other things, "a scheme or artifice to defraud the United States of its intangible right to the honest services of RENZI, free from deceit, bias, self-dealing, and concealment".)
The misappropriation of insurance premiums also seems pretty appalling, according to the indictment: Renzi basically took over $400,000 in premiums without bothering to actually buy any insurance with them. (The money seems to have gone to his Congressional campaign.) When the people he had supposedly insured got cancellation notices, the indictment claims that he sent them fake insurance certificates from another company, a company that did not, in fact, issue insurance policies. (He says this was a clerical error.) The indictment also notes (p. 21, 61 e, f) that Renzi mailed two checks to people he had insured, one listed as "Donation Towards Claim Expenses" and the other as "Donation Towards Claim Settlement". That suggests that he might have been paying out claims to the people he had insured.
All in all, it's pretty astounding. If the allegations are true, I hope he has a nice long time to reflect on conscience, integrity, and the meaning of public service from his very own cell.
As Paul Kiel reminds us, the US Attorney who oversaw this investigation was Paul Charlton, one of the Attorneys fired in the, um, US Attorney firing scandal. From the WSJ:
"People briefed on the case said investigators in Arizona asked Washington for clearance -- among other tools -- for a wiretap of Mr. Renzi's telephones, a highly unusual step against a sitting member of Congress, months before Election Day. The wiretap eventually was approved, and was in place by late October, these people said.
On Oct. 26, just days before the election, two political Web sites carried the first public word of the probe. In subsequent news accounts, an unidentified Washington law-enforcement official described the matter as "preliminary." Few details emerged, but the leak disrupted prosecutors' wiretap.
Meanwhile, Mr. Renzi, first elected to Congress in 2002, was fighting to hold on to his seat. In September, President Bush hosted a fund-raiser in Scottsdale on his behalf. About the same time Mr. Charlton was added to a list of prosecutors "we should now consider pushing out," wrote Mr. Gonzales's then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, in a Sept. 13, 2006, email to then-White House counsel Harriet Miers."
What an unfortunate series of coincidences. Stranger still, when the investigation was made public, one of Renzi's aides called Charlton to ask about it; Charlton reported that contact to the DoJ, as required, but oddly enough, the DoJ report of that contact was left out of the document dumps the DoJ made in response to various Congressional requests.
(Cross-posted at Obsidian Wings)