Probation report: Renzi should get 33 months

Posted: Updated:
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- Former Arizona Rep. Rick Renzi should be sent to federal prison for nearly three years for convictions on public corruption, money laundering and other charges, according to recommendations from the U.S. Probation Office.

Renzi's lawyers are objecting to the sentencing recommendation, saying in court filings it wrongfully increases the sentence he should receive under federal guidelines. They argue that the value of the gain Renzi was convicted of receiving was essentially zero and a sentencing boost the probation officer included after determining Renzi gained between $600,000 and $1.2 million was wrong.

Federal prosecutors take the opposite view in court filings, arguing the sentence should be more harsh. They say in their objections to the report that the probation officer underestimated the financial gain and incorrectly downplayed the public corruption aspect of the case.

"A more brazen and straightforward abuse of public office (on two occasions) is difficult to imagine, and the associated charges of conviction - attempted extortion under color of official light, extortion under color of official right, and honest services fraud - fall squarely in the realm of core corruption offenses," federal prosecutors wrote.

The actual probation report isn't yet public, but the sentencing recommendation was laid out in the defense lawyers' objections filed in federal court in Tucson. That's where Renzi was tried and convicted in June of 17 of the 32 counts against him, including wire fraud, conspiracy, extortion, racketeering, money laundering and making false statements to insurance regulators.

In addition to 33 months in federal prison, the probation officer recommends a $20,000 fine and three years' supervised release. Renzi, 55, and co-defendant James Sandlin, 62, of Sherman, Texas, are scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 28.

An attorney for Renzi declined to comment. Sandli's lawyer didn't respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press. A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington said federal prosecutors would reserve their comments for the courtroom.

Renzi was indicted in 2008 on charges that while in office in 2005 he held hostage possible parcel swaps involving public land proposed an Arizona copper mine unless it included purchasing private land owned by Sandlin.

According to the indictment, an investment group agreed to pay $4.6 million for Sandlin's land, and he then paid Renzi $733,000 for his help.

Sandlin had owed Renzi money from past business dealings involving land in Kingman, authorities said.

Charges in the second part of the case accused Renzi of embezzling more than $400,000 in premiums from his Sierra Vista, Ariz.-based family insurance business to fund his 2002 campaign for Congress. Sandlin wasn't involved in that portion of the case.

Renzi, who represented southeastern Arizona's then-1st Congressional District, was indicted in February 2008 and chose not to run for re-election that year.

Sandlin's recommended sentence isn't yet known, but his attorney is objecting on the same grounds. He also said Sandlin should get credit for five months he spent in jail for a 2008 federal conviction for making false statements on a bank loan application, saying he never would have been prosecuted if he hadn't been caught up in the Renzi case.

Renzi and Sandlin also are asking that U.S. District Judge David Bury throw out the guilty verdicts for lack of evidence or grant a new trial.