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U.S. court lets convicted ex-Arizona congressman remain free on appeal

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court ruled on Tuesday that former U.S. Representative Richard Renzi of Arizona will not have to report to prison to serve a three-year sentence while he challenges his conviction on fraud, extortion and money laundering charges.

A three-term Republican, 55-year-old Renzi was convicted in June of 17 felony counts and acquitted of 15 other charges in a high-profile public corruption case stemming from a land swap while he was in office. He was sentenced in October by a federal judge in Tucson.

A three-member panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Renzi, who represented Arizona's 1st congressional district from January 2003 until he left office in 2009, had presented "clear and convincing evidence" that he should remain free on bail pending his appeal.

"Appellant is not likely to flee or to pose a danger to the safety of any other person or the community if released," the judges wrote.

The panel also ruled that Renzi's appeal, which centers on a variety of testimony that was allowed to be used in the trial, raised "a substantial question" that could result in a reversal of his conviction last year or possibly lead to a new trial.

Renzi's conviction was linked to accusations he coerced a mining company in 2005 to arrange for investors to buy land from a former business partner and co-defendant, James Sandlin, who then funneled corporate checks to Renzi.

He was also convicted of funneling funds from an insurance company he managed into personal and campaign accounts.

The government said Renzi used some of that money, which was intended for insurance premiums, to fund his first congressional campaign in 2002. He was indicted in 2008 and left Congress early the following year at the end of his term.

Sandlin was sentenced to 18 months in prison for his role in the case.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman)

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