Rick Renzi Indicted: McCain Co-Chair Hit For Fraud, Extortion
Scroll to the bottom for updates as the story unfolds
GOP Arizona Rep. Rick Renzi -- the co-chairman of Sen. John McCain's campaign in Arizona -- has been indicted this morning:
Republican Rep. Rick Renzi (REN-zee) has been indicted for extortion, wire fraud, money laundering and other charges related to a land deal in Arizona.
A 26-page federal indictment unsealed in Arizona accuses Renzi and two former business partners of conspiring to promote the sale of land that buyers could swap for property owned by the federal government. The sale netted one of Renzi's former partners $4.5 million.
Renzi is a three-term member of the House. He announced in August that he would not seek re-election.
Today's indictment comes after a lengthy federal investigation into the land developing and insurance businesses owned by Renzi's family.
In April 2007, federal agents raided a Sonoita (so-no-EE-ta) Arizona business owned by Renzi's wife, Roberta.
Paul Kiel breaks down the indictment:
The charges boil down to this, basically. Renzi 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.
John McCain was asked about the indictment in Indianapolis today:
"I'm sorry obviously, you always feel for the family as you know he has 12 children. But I don't know enough of the details or anything to make a judgment, this kind of thing is always, is always very unfortunate. I rely on our department of justice and our system of justice to make the right outcome."
House Minority Leader John Boehner is pushing for Renzi to resign, according to The Hill:
"I have made it clear that I will hold our members to the highest standards of ethical conduct," Boehner said in a statement Friday. "The charges contained in this indictment are completely unacceptable for a member of Congress, and I strongly urge Rep. Renzi to seriously consider whether he can continue to effectively represent his constituents under these circumstances. I expect to meet with Rep. Renzi at the earliest possible opportunity to discuss this situation and the best option for his constituents, our Conference, and the American people."
Rick Renzi's attorney has released a statement responding to the charges:
"We fear that the Department of Justice may have allowed the investigation to have been influenced by political considerations, which should never have a place in the administration of justice."
According to the indictment, Renzi allegedly paid for his first Congressional race with embezzled funds:
The Federal Election Commission audited now-indicted Rep. Rick Renzi's (R-Ariz.) 2001-02 campaign back in '04 and identified more than $369,000 in "impermissible corporate funds" given by Renzi to his campaign committee. Renzi and his attorneys said that the money was from "personal funds" and thus allowable, and the FEC, despite numerous questions about the source of the funds, took no formal action against him. Renzi had used that disputed money in 2002 to narrowly defeat Democrat George Cordova, winning with only 49 percent of the vote in a close general election race.
Now, however, the Justice Department has a different explanation for where that money came from -- Renzi and a business associate named Andrew Beardall were allegedly skimming hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Renzi-owned insurance company, and Renzi steered more than $400,000 of stolen money into his first run for a House seat. Thus, according to Justice, Renzi -- who raised just over $1.65 million during that cycle -- illegally redirected about a quarter of the money he used to win his race from the customers of one of his companies.
Renzi is set to step down from McCain's campaign, according to MSNBC:
On his weekly blogger conference call, John McCain said that Rep. Rick Renzi (R) would probably step down as co-chair of his Arizona campaign. McCain was unaware of the Arizona congressman's indictment until asked about it this morning after a town hall in Indianapolis, at which point he said that you always think about the family in these circumstances and he would look into Renzi's role in his campaign.