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Former Arizona Rep. Rick Renzi sentenced to three years in prison

Crime, Law and JusticeJustice SystemElectionsPoliticsU.S. CongressInsuranceBlackmail and Extortion

WASHINGTON -- A former congressman convicted of 17 felonies including extortion, money laundering, bribery and insurance fraud was sentenced Monday to three years in prison.

Former Rep. Rick Renzi, a three-term Republican from Flagstaff, Ariz., was convicted in June of using his influence in Congress to profit from a federal land deal and of using clients' insurance premiums to finance his first congressional campaign, the Justice Department said.

In 2005, Renzi used his position to promote a land deal that brought millions of dollars to him and a business partner, James W. Sandlin, the Justice Department said in a news release. Sandlin, Renzi's co-defendant, was also convicted in June by a federal jury in Tucson. He was sentenced Monday to 18 months in prison.

"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 Mythili Raman, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. "He fleeced his own insurance company to fund his run for Congress, and then exploited his position for personal gain."

Renzi "threatened proponents of the land exchange that he would not support it" unless they bought property owned by Sandlin, who owed Renzi $700,000 from other dealings, according to the Justice Department.  

Renzi and the proponents eventually reached a deal in which Sandlin was paid $2.6 million, the department said, citing evidence from the trial. Sandlin then paid Renzi more than $700,000.

Renzi also engaged in insurance fraud from 2001-03, the Justice Department said, by using clients' premiums for his campaign and sending them false letters, and by lying to state regulators who were investigating him.

Renzi was in Congress from 2003-09. He was indicted in the land deal case in early 2008 and did not seek reelection that year.

becca.clemons@latimes.com

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