In his first run for the House in 2002 Representative Rick Renzi (R-AZ) received on two occasions $121,000 in corporate checks for his campaign from his real estate partner James Sandlin. He also transferred $400,000 from the premiums account of the ironically named Patriot Insurance Agency of Sonoita, Arizona which he owned. He passed this money through various accounts and on to his campaign. In 2003, he sold his interest in the real estate company to Sandlin for $1 million ($200,000 in cash plus an $800,000 note).
In 2005, the Resolution Copper company wished to acquire the surface rights to federal land near Superior, Arizona for which it owned the mineral rights. To do so, it proposed a land swap of private land for the land it wanted. This required Congressional legislation and approval by the National Resources Committee on which Rick Renzi sat. The scam worked like this. Renzi needed money. Life in Washington was expensive and he had to pay back the “loan” from his insurance company. Sandlin still owed him some $700,000 from the sale of the real estate company. So Renzi agreed to support the Resolution Copper bid if in return Resolution Copper agreed to purchase a 480 acre alfalfa field owned by Sandlin. Sandlin would get a hefty payment from Resolution Copper, and Renzi would get his money from Sandlin plus a little something extra. However, on April 12, 2005, Resolution Copper not knowing of all the shenanigans going on but probably beginning to smell a rat refused to buy the alfalfa field. On April 16, 2005, just 4 days later, Renzi undeterred proposed a similar land swap involving the alfalfa field to the Petrified Forest Group on an unrelated matter. This time he was successful and Sandlin got $4.6 million for it. On May 5, 2005, Sandlin received a first payment of $1 million from Petrified Forest and on the same day he wrote a check for $200,000 to a Renzi owned winery. On May 20, 2005, Renzi deposited the $200,000 into a Patriot Insurance account. On September 30, 2005, he got the remainder $533,000. On January 10, 2006, he transferred $325,000 of this to Patriot Insurance and back out again on February 10, 2006 to pay back taxes for 2001. In his financial disclosure statement for 2005 to Congress, he did not report either Sandlin’s debt or its repayment as required by law.
An investigation into Renzi’s deals was begun in June 2005 and was taken up by then US Attorney for Arizona Paul Charlton in September 2006. The Justice Department under Alberto Gonzales, however, did what it could to delay the investigation until after the November 2006 elections by drawing out the granting of search warrants and subpoenas. A wiretap was eventually approved in October 2006 but was rendered largely ineffective when the AP broke the story of the investigation on October 24, 2006. At this time, an aide to Renzi Brian Murray inappropriately contacted Charlton to find out more about the case. The upshot of all this was that Charlton became one of the 8 US Attorneys fired on December 7, 2006. (see item 3)
On April 19, 2007, the FBI raided Patriot Insurance.
On August 23, 2007, Renzi announced that he would not seek re-election. On February 22, 2008, a 35 count indictment was unsealed charging Renzi with conspiracy, wire fraud, insurance fraud, money laundering, and extortion. Renzi is not a solitary figure in the Republican culture of corruption. He is just one more example of why the current Republican Party has come to resemble a criminal enterprise more than a political party.