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12:01 AM Thu, Sept. 20th

Renzi takes leave from House committee

WASHINGTON ­ An FBI raid leaves no room for doubt that federal officials are investigating U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi, whose sprawling Congressional District One includes Yavapai County and Prescott.

Renzi announced in a press release about 9 p.m. Thursday that the FBI took "documents related to their investigation" from his family's insurance agency in Sonoita.

"I view these actions as the first step in bringing out the truth," Renzi said. "I intend to fully cooperate with this investigation."

Renzi said he will step down from the House Intelligence Committee, which oversees the FBI, "until this matter is resolved."

Since this past October, various news organizations have quoted anonymous federal sources as saying that the FBI and/or the U.S. Attorney's Office were investigating Renzi. Different media pointed to different reasons for the investigations.

Renzi has repeatedly refused to say anything about any investigation, reportedly saying to do so would give the rumors legitimacy.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Renzi told him of the search Thursday and volunteered to step down from the committee "to avoid any unnecessary distractions on the panel and its critical work." Renzi did not step down from his other two committees on Financial Services and Natural Resources.

Spokesmen for the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office in Arizona declined to comment. Renzi's short press release directed media to a lawyer who did not return repeated calls for comment.

Personal financial disclosure forms filed with the House this past May show Renzi's wife, Roberta, owned the Patriot Insurance Agency Inc. It was valued at between $1 million and $5 million. The agency is located in a sprawling ranch-style home in Sonoita, which is not in Renzi's congressional district.

The person who answered the door Friday referred a reporter to Tucson lawyer Mick Rusing, who was not immediately available for comment.

The raid on Renzi's business happened the same day that Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., temporarily stepped down from the House Appropriations Committee.

Renzi disclosed the raid and stepped down immediately. Doolittle disclosed that agents had raided his Virginia home only after it became public several days later.

The raid also comes a day after Senate Judiciary Committee members grilled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year, including Arizona's Paul Charlton.

Democrats have demanded to know whether the firings were related to prosecutors' political corruption investigations. Gonzales fired Charlton on Dec. 7.

Anonymous law enforcement officials told the AP in October that they were scrutinizing a land deal that would benefit James Sandlin, who had been a partner with Renzi in a real estate investment company and also was a Renzi campaign donor.

The Phoenix New Times magazine first published details about Sandlin and Renzi in an Oct. 12 story. It questioned Renzi's motives when in October 2005 he announced a plan to sponsor land swap legislation that would conserve 480 irrigated acres that Sandlin owned along the endangered San Pedro River. The land is not in his district.

Sandlin soon sold the land for $3 million more than he paid for it three years earlier. Then Renzi decided not to sponsor the bill, after a lobbyist working on another land exchange project accused Renzi of trying to benefit Sandlin.

"I didn't want the appearance of impropriety," Renzi told The Daily Courier in October.

Other news organizations have quoted anonymous sources saying that federal authorities are investigating whether Renzi sponsored legislation to help his father. That accusation has especially angered Renzi.

Renzi said he sponsored the bill to help the largest employer in the Sierra Vista area, Fort Huachuca. Former Rep. Jim Kolbe, whose district included the fort, said the legislation was in writing before voters even elected Renzi, and when he was unsuccessful at getting it into law, he asked Renzi to sponsor it because Renzi was a member of the House Resources Committee.

The legislation became law as part of a Defense Department bill. It limits the fort's responsibilities to preserve the flow of the San Pedro River outside its jurisdiction.

Renzi's father is a top official in ManTech International Corp., a major Fort Huachuca contractor whose employees made up the largest contributors to Renzi's campaign in 2002 and the second largest in 2004. Kolbe noted that ManTech's contracts simply would continue at another military site if Huachuca closed.

Courier reporter Joanna Dodder contributed to this article.