By JUSTIN ROOD, March 8, 2007
Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., allegedly defrauded dozens of pro-life organizations for hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund his first congressional bid, according to an analysis of the recent indictment against him, a state insurance claim and an interview with an insurance lawyer involved in the case.
When federal prosecutors indicted Renzi, 49, on 35 felony counts two weeks ago, many reports focused on alleged crimes stemming from a complicated series of land swaps the congressman facilitated.
But the indictment also accuses Renzi, who ran an insurance firm before coming to Capitol Hill, of misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance premiums and using the money to fund his congressional campaign.
Organizations such as Arizona Right-to-Life, the Hope Crisis Pregnancy Center and the Wickenburg Pregnancy Resource Center paid insurance premiums to Renzi's insurance firm, Renzi & Company, but received notices their insurance coverage was going to be cancelled for nonpayment, according to a 2003 complaint filed with the State of Arizona. The complaint was first reported by the Phoenix New Times.
According to the indictment, Renzi funneled those payments -- totaling more than $400,000 -- through various accounts and finally to his campaign.
Renzi's congressional office has directed all legal questions to his lawyer, Reid Weingarten. Weingarten did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Renzi says he is innocent.
Renzi has positioned himself as staunchly anti-abortion. "The sanctity of human life should always be upheld, and I will continue to fight for the rights of the unborn in Congress," he said in 2003, as a freshman U.S. representative. In 2006, Renzi received a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee for his voting record.
The 2003 complaint was filed by an insurance broker who acted as an intermediary between Renzi & Company and the insurance company which held the pro-life groups' policy.
In an interview, a lawyer for the broker confirmed that the payments his company did not receive from the pro-life groups were the same prosecutors allege Renzi embezzled to pay for his congressional campaign.
The lawyer, who spoke on the condition his name not be used, represents North Island Facilities. The company brokered insurance coverage for roughly 50 pro-life organizations in "a multitude" of states through Renzi's firm, the lawyer said, and all had received cancellation notices because Renzi's company had not forwarded their payments.
Coverage for the organizations were never cancelled, the lawyer said, despite the lapse in payment. Months after NIF filed complaints against Renzi & Co. in Arizona, Virginia and other states, Renzi paid the pro-life groups' insurance bills with money from his father, the indictment shows.
According to the indictment, when the groups complained to Renzi that their premiums had not been paid, he said a new insurance company, "Jimcor," now insured the groups and created false certificates as evidence. He later told state officials that those certificates were issued in error, the indictment says.
Elected to Congress in 2002, Renzi has faced pressure to resign from GOP party leaders since the indictment against him was announced two weeks ago. Though he stepped down from his committee seats last year following FBI raids on the insurance business, Renzi has vowed to stay in Congress.
"I will not resign and take on the cloak of guilt because I am innocent," Renzi said earlier this week. "My legal team...will handle these legal issues while I continue to serve my constituents."