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Mon, May 20

Renzi steps down from more committees

U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi announced in a press release Tuesday that he will step down from all his committee assignments in the wake of an FBI raid on his family's Arizona property.

Renzi announced in a press release this past Thursday that he will step down temporarily from the House Intelligence Committee, which has oversight over the FBI.

That two-paragraph press release stated that the FBI took "documents related to their investigation" from his "family's

business."

Now Renzi is taking leave from the House Financial Services Committee and House Natural Resources Committee.

The latter committee is among the first to consider land exchange legislation. Various news media have quoted anonymous sources saying that federal authorities are investigating Renzi's involvement in proposed land exchange legislation that benefited a former business partner, and another successful bill that could appear to benefit his father.

"For several weeks, I have been the subject of leaked stories, conjecture and false attacks about a land exchange," Renzi said in Tuesday's two-paragraph press release. "None of them bear any

resemblance to the truth.

"So that no one can question the motivation behind the land exchange, which I and other leaders from both parties have argued is critical to the future of Arizona, I have spoken to Congressman (Ed) Pastor who will introduce a new version of the Resolution Copper land exchange."

Renzi has not returned repeated phone calls.

Renzi's press release was referring to a land exchange that the Resolution Copper Company is seeking so it can mine copper on what is now federal land near Superior.

Renzi had asked Resolution Copper Company a few years ago to include a 480-acre parcel along the San Pedro River in the land exchange. He previously stated he didn't know that the owner of that land was James Sandlin, his former business partner.

When Resolution didn't buy the land, Renzi encouraged another group called Petrified Forest to buy Sandlin's land as part of a land exchange. The group bought it for about $4 million in 2005, just a few years after Sandlin paid about

$1 million for it.

Renzi said he ended up deciding not to sponsor the legislation because a Resolution lobbyist accused him of trying to benefit Sandlin.

Instead, Renzi said he was trying to help efforts to preserve the flow of the San Pedro River by making land along the river public and retiring irrigation uses.

He said he also was trying to help efforts to preserve southern Arizona's largest employer, Fort Huachuca, which sits within the San Pedro watershed.

Renzi sponsored legislation to limit the fort's responsibilities to preserve the river's flow, too, and that became law as part of a Defense Department bill.

Renzi's father, Gen. Eugene Renzi, happens to be a top official in a company called ManTech International, which has major contracts with the fort.

Sandlin's name also came up in a Federal Elections Commission (FEC) audit.

The audit concluded that Renzi's campaign used "impermissible corporate funds" of $369,090 when he first ran for Congress in 2002. Corporate contributions are illegal.

Renzi said in 2006 that was personal money he earned after selling his share of a company to Sandlin.

Renzi released an FEC letter to the public in September 2006 that informed him it will "take no further action" and "closed its file" on the corporate contributions investigation.

But since other parts of that long-standing FEC investigation remain open, the FEC refuses to explain why it closed its file. Renzi said the FEC told him he's cleared of any wrongdoing, but he has not produced documents to back that up.

This past weekend's Wall Street Journal quoted anonymous sources saying the FBI has questioned Resolution Copper officials and others involved in the proposed land exchanges.

The FBI also is looking into Renzi's involvement with Fort Huachuca, the Journal story said.

The Journal reported that a federal grand jury in Tucson authorized the search warrant at the family business.

The Associated Press reported that the search took place at the Patriot Insurance office that his wife owns in Sonoita. That is the office's site as registered with the Arizona Corporation Commission, but it's also the site of the family's vineyard and ranch house.

Corporation Commission documents show that Congressman Renzi sold his "Renzi Vino" company to his father in 2005. Corporation Commission records also list Renzi Vino's headquarters in Sierra Vista.

Contact the reporter at jdodder@prescottaz.com

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