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Ex-Arizona congressman convicted of fraud and extortion

By Brad Poole

TUCSON, Arizona (Reuters) - Former U.S. Representative Richard Renzi of Arizona was found guilty on Tuesday of fraud, extortion and money laundering stemming from a federal land swap deal when he was in office, prosecutors said.

Renzi, 55, was convicted of 17 felony counts in the corruption trial at the U.S. District Court in Tucson but the jury acquitted him on 15 other charges, prosecutors said.

"Former Congressman Renzi's streak of criminal activity was a betrayal of the public trust and abuse of the political process," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department's Criminal Division.

"After years of misconduct as a businessman, political candidate and member of Congress, Mr. Renzi now faces the consequences for breaking the laws that he took an oath to support and defend."

Renzi faces up to 100 years in prison when sentenced, which is set for August 19 in Tucson.

An attorney for Renzi, a Republican who represented Arizona's 1st Congressional District for three terms before he stood down in 2009, said he plans to appeal.

"We are pleased that the jury acquitted Mr. Renzi on 15 counts. We are disappointed by every guilty verdict. We will continue to fight these charges," attorney Chris Niewoehner said in a statement.

Renzi was accused of coercing a mining company in 2005 to arrange for investors to buy land from a former business partner and codefendant, James Sandlin, who then funneled corporate checks to Renzi.

The former congressman 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.

Sandlin, 62, was convicted of 13 felonies, including conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and extortion. His attorney was not immediately available for comment.

Renzi was indicted in 2008. He left Congress at the end of his term in early 2009.

(Reporting by Brad Poole; Writing by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)

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