The Schemes That Renzi Allegedly Ran

Five weeks ago, Republican Rep. Rick Renzi of Arizona was formally charged with using his office to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars. He'll go on trial in April. The Republican lawmaker denies breaking any laws, but the indictment spells out a string of alleged dirty deals. CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson Follows the Money.



While campaigning for his first term in Congress, Rick Renzi introduced the president at an Arizona event.

Even then, Renzi was already on the take, according to a 35-count indictment alleging corruption, extortion and money laundering.

Federal investigators say Renzi "was having financial difficulty," so he devised a shakedown scheme involving a business partner ... and an alfalfa field, Attkisson reports.

The scheme exploited a federal land swap, where private firms like mining companies can get federal land by trading a piece of land of equal value. As a member of the Congressional committee that approves the land swaps, Renzi was perfectly positioned to game the system.

According to the FBI, Renzi pressured companies that wanted federal land swaps to buy an alfalfa field near his Arizona hometown. It was owned by Renzi's business partner James Sandlin.

Renzi allegedly made it crystal clear that he was selling his influence.

"No Sandlin property, no bill. If you want to do business with the federal government and you want my support, you're going to have to buy this property and make it part of the package in the land exchange," said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, characterizing the terms of the deal.

One company did agree to buy Sandlin's alfalfa field - for $4.6 million. Sandlin then allegedly used part of the money, $733,000, to pay off an old debt to Renzi. The FBI says the money went straight into a new bank account Renzi had set up called "the Rick Renzi Rain Whisper Account" and that men illegally concealed the deal.

According to the indictment, Renzi didn't become crooked after he got to Washington. He was crooked when he got there.

He's also charged with embezzling $400,000 worth of insurance premiums from his family insurance company and diverting it to the "Rick Renzi for Congress" account that helped get him elected.

If convicted, Renzi and Sandlin - who was also indicted - face up to 20 years in prison each. Each pleaded not guilty in court earlier this month.

"We are very confident that there will be full and complete answers to every allegation the government has made," said Grant Woods, Renzi's attorney.

Well before the indictment, Renzi had announced he'll step down at the end of this year.

With the trial set for next month, the question is: Could he go to prison first?
  • Sharyl Attkisson On Twitter»

    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.

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