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Former congressman gets 3 years in prison on corruption charges

Former U.S. Representative from Arizona Rick Renzi, at the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, Sunday, April 1, 2007.
Former U.S. Representative from Arizona Rick Renzi, at the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, Sunday, April 1, 2007.AP Photo/Sabah Arar, Pool

By Evan Burgos, NBC News

A former U.S. congressman from Arizona was sentenced to three years in prison Monday for convictions of public corruption.

Rick Renzi, once a three-term Republican in the House, was fined $25,000 in addition to the prison sentence.

Renzi’s co-defendant and business partner, James Sandlin, a 62-year-old real estate investor, was sentenced to 18 months in prison.  Both men are scheduled to begin their sentences in January.

U.S. District Judge David C. Bury levied the sentence in a federal courtroom.

"I'm not wise enough to know why good people do bad things — I think character and avarice have something to do with it," Bury said. "That's what happened here. Two good men committed bad acts."

In June, Renzi, 55, who represented Arizona's first Congressional District from 2003 to 2009, was found guilty on 17 felony counts, including wire fraud, conspiracy, extortion, racketeering, money laundering and making false statements to insurance regulators. He was acquitted on 15 other charges.

The charges stemmed from various dealings involving real estate deals, financial kickbacks and fraud.

Included in the case against Renzi is a transaction from 2005, when the then-congressman stipulated that any proposal for a federal land exchange — a real estate deal in which a property owner exchanges privately owned land for federal land of equal value — would have to include land owned by Sandlin, according to the indictment.

Renzi is quoted in court documents as telling private investors, “No Sandlin Property, no bill.”

An investment firm agreed to a deal involving Sandlin, paying him $4.6 million. For forcing Sandlin’s inclusion, Renzi received a kickback of $733,000, according to the indictment.

Additionally, the indictment said that Renzi embezzled $460,000 from a family-owned Arizona insurance firm to his congressional campaign fund in 2002.

Renzi was indicted in 2008 and did not seek re-election when his term was up the following year. He faced a maximum of 100 years in prison, according to wire reports.

The U.S. Probation Office recommended that Renzi be sentenced to 33 months in federal prison, be fined $20,000 and serve three years of supervised release.

Mr. Renzi abused the power - and the corresponding trust - that comes with being a member of Congress by putting his own financial interests over the interests of the citizens he had sworn to serve," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman. 

"He fleeced his own insurance company to fund his run for Congress, and then exploited his position for personal gain.  Mr. Renzi's conviction and today's sentence demonstrate the Justice Department's commitment to fighting corruption at the highest levels of government."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this story.