WASHINGTON – The U.S. Attorney's office in Arizona has indicted Republican Rep. Rick Renzi on federal fraud charges relating to an alleged illegal land deal and its cover-up, and Renzi is facing calls for his early retirement.
The charges include conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, concealment of money laundering, transactions with criminally derived funds, extortion, insurance fraud and criminal forfeiture.
Renzi, a three-term congressmen, already said he would not seek re-election. In the sweeping indictment, federal authorities charged Renzi with a host of charges connected to a land-swap arrangement Renzi tried to execute in Arizona. His initial court appearance is scheduled for March 6.
"Public corruption creates a cynicism for government and unfairly stains legions of honest public servants," Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher said in a statement. "These charges represent allegations that Congressman Renzi defrauded the public of his unbiased, honest services as an elected official."
A statement released by Renzi's lawyers criticized the timing of the indictment, which comes a day after Renzi's father's funeral.
"Yesterday morning, Congressman Renzi buried his father and best friend, Major General Eugene Renzi at Arlington National Cemetery. Just hours later, as his family mourned his father's passing, the media informed him that the Department of Justice had brought charges against him," Renzi lawyers Reid Weingarten and Kelly B. Kramer said in a prepared statement.
"We are very dissapointed that the Department of Justice would not allow a decent amount of time to pass to allow a son to mourn the passing of his father. We are disappointed that there have been repeated leaks in the face of strict grand jury secrecy rules.
"And 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.
"Congressman Renzi did nothing wrong. We will fight these charges until he is vindicated and his family's name is restored."
The indictment also names business associate James Sandlin, and Maryland attorney Andrew Beardall. The indictment also refers to two companies involved in the transactions, Company A and Investment Group B.
Prosecutors allege Renzi criminally concealed information about land deals to both Company A and Investment Group B, and used his seat on the House Natural Resources Committee to try to force their hand.
The indictment says Renzi was trying to help his business associate, Sandlin, finish paying off an $800,000 loan Sandlin owed to Renzi. Renzi was in financial straits and needed the money, according to the court documents filed Friday.
Following 2005 payments by Investment Group B to Sandlin, Sandlin paid Renzi $733,000, and Renzi moved the money through several accounts, eventually using $325,000 to pay outstanding taxes.
The indictment says Renzi also never claimed the $733,000 in his 2006 House financial disclosure statements.
Beardall, the Maryland attorney, is accused of assisting Renzi and Sandlin in an insurance fraud scheme.
Renzi resigned his committee assignments last year and announced he would not stand for re-election this fall as news of the investigation unfolded.
During his time in Congress, Renzi took pride in bringing home federal dollars to his mostly rural district, stretching from north of Tucson to the northeastern Navajo reservations. That's a stark contrast compared to the rest of the Arizona delegation.
Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is well-known for his anti-pork stance. And Republican Arizona Representatives Jeff Flake and John Shadegg are two of the most active fighters against earmarks in the House.
Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, hinted at calling for Renzi's resignation but did not directly call for him to step down.
"I have made it clear that I will hold our Members to the highest standards of ethical conduct. 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," said Boehner, the highest-ranked Republican in the House.
"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," Boehner said.
Renzi also is the Arizona chairman for McCain's presidential campaign. McCain seemed surprised when asked in Indianapolis for his reaction to the indictment, choosing his words carefully, shaking his head and speaking slowly.
"I'm sorry. I feel for the family; as you know, he has 12 children," McCain told reporters on the presidential campaign trail. "But I don't know enough of the details to make a judgment. These kinds of things are always very unfortunate.... I rely on our Department of Justice and system of justice to make the right outcome."
But Democrats jumped on the Republicans' misfortune.
Howard Shanker, the Democrat running to succeed Renzi, called on the embattled congressman to step down, calling it unfortunate that his constituents "have had to live in the shadow of Mr. Renzi's asserted dirty dealings for so long."
He added that Renzi "has not been focused on helping his constituents, our Congressional District, or our country, for almost a year. It is unfortunate that we can hold so little faith or trust in our elected representatives. ... It is time for Mr. Renzi to step down, so that his seat can be filled by a public servant who is dedicated to the honest and effective representation."
Shanker was joined by the Democrats' congressional arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which seeks to boost its party's numbers in the House.
"Today’s news of Congressman Rick Renzi’s indictment is sad and unfortunate for the people of the First District of Arizona. They deserve better," DCCC spokesman Doug Thornell said.
"Hopefully, Congressman Renzi will put the interests of his district first and do what is best for his constituents. Democrats will continue to fight hard to turn this seat blue and rebuild the trust of the people of Northern Arizona."
Other Troubles in the House
Renzi is the second sitting House Member under indictment. Also under indictment and facing trial on corruption charges is Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., whose trial was scheduled to start next week in federal court in Alexandria, Va., but now has been delayed.
Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, remains under criminal indictment in Texas.
In separate inquiries, the Feds also are probing the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif.; Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif.; Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska; and Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. Stevens is the most senior Republican in the Senate.
Earlier this week, authorities released former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, from a minimum-security federal prison in West Virginia. He had been serving time there for trying to peddle influence for former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Ney is now in a halfway house in Cincinnati.
Former Rep. Duke Cunningham, R-Calif., remains behind bars for his conviction two years ago in an influence-peddling scheme. This week, defense contractor Brent Wilkes, who bought Cunningham's influence, was sentenced to 12 years in prison in connection to the investigation.
FOX News' Ian McCaleb and Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.