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Probation report: Renzi should get 33 months

PHOENIX — 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 is not yet public, but the sentencing recommendation
was laid out in the defense lawyers’ objections filed in federal court in
Tucson. That is 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. Sandlin’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.

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