Congressional Investigation Time? Shattering New Evidence of Corruption and False Conviction in the Trial of Republican Rick Renzi
Powerful new evidence suggests that Democrats conspired to take out popular GOP Congressman Rick Renzi of Arizona, trumping up charges that landed him in prison. Will a GOP-controlled Congress act?
Former GOP Congressman Rick Renzi was wrongly imprisoned, it appears, as fresh evidence of prosecutorial wrongdoing in his case emerges almost every week. It’s beginning to look like a sequel to the “Fast and Furious” scandal, as more and more information implicates the government.
As I’ve explained previously, Renzi was accused of proposing a federal land exchange that would have benefited him. But evidence that came out during and after the trial refuted the charge. The FBI offered to give money to the government’s key witness/”victim,” Philip Aries, to change his story and say the land exchange was Renzi’s idea. The Obama Justice Department prosecutor, Gary Restaino, whose wife worked closely under Janet Napolitano, never disclosed this information to the defense.
What was the motive? The consensus view among Renzi supporters who have followed the case closely is this: The powerful Democrats who controlled the Arizona governorship and much of the state’s legal system weren’t going to risk a chance that Renzi might eventually run against Napolitano for governor or continue as a Republican liked even by many Democrats in the state. Evidence came in during the trial discovery that the mining company Resolution Copper had told Napolitano that the deal must be killed or it would help Renzi. In sum, he had become the Democrats’ #1 target. Few close to the case now doubt that Napolitano was calling the shots, telling Restaino through his wife to continue the prosecution against Renzi. That the case was trumped up seems to have given none of the key players pause.
As more evidence came out in July about the collusion, U.S. Federal District Court Judge David Bury granted a hearing to consider a new trial. I attended the hearing, where I met several of Renzi’s 12 children, who have developed into impressive young adults, sure of their dad’s innocence. I was shocked by what I heard as Aries and the main FBI agent repeatedly contradicted each other’s testimony on the witness stand. How can you convict someone based on that?
The prosecution offered Renzi a deal right before the trial: 10 months in prison if he would just plead guilty to a small public corruption charge of failure to properly disclose his financial interest. If Renzi didn’t accept it, he was looking at possibly more than 35 felony charges and over 150 years in prison. Renzi says that he prayed and fasted for seven days, drinking only water and asking God for wisdom. At the end of the fast, his son had to assist him so he could eat. After eating, Renzi decided he could not accept the deal, even though rejecting meant he would likely spend far longer in prison.
Since I started writing about this case in July, people all over the country have been emailing me information unknown even to Renzi’s defense team. For instance, two weeks ago I learned something from someone in Colorado that suggests the real estate developer, Aries, had proposed the land exchange, not Renzi. It turns out Aries has a father with a history of sleazy real estate deals.
The Phoenix New Times described real estate developer Frank Aries in 1990, “Aries, who drove a Rolls-Royce, lived in a $1.6 million home in the ritzy Broadmoor district of Colorado Springs and liked to brag about the multimillion-dollar sailboat he had his eye on, was not a man who thought small.” The article explains how he connived $240 million from Western Savings & Loan to invest in a real estate project in Colorado Springs that had little chance of surviving:
Aries’ willingness to pay top dollar for raw land in a time of economic uncertainty and Western’s blind faith in the bet-it-all principles of Sun Belt real estate are straight out of a financial fairy tale. … The remarkable loan agreement he worked out with Western saw to it that he wasn’t personally responsible for a dime of the money. At last word, the 56-year-old Aries was making plans to sail “probably all over the world. … As Aries sails off into the sunset, Western Savings is now under the control of the government’s thrift bailout agency, the RTC. The taxpayers will pick up the tab.
Perhaps the most alarming new piece of information is the role former U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt (Dem./AZ), played in the land exchange. Aries’ proposal to Renzi at their first, and only, meeting contained a document revealing it had been drafted from a computer at Babbitt’s then law firm. It included the “Sandlin property,” which the prosecutors had claimed Renzi sought to include in the exchange all along. That now-doubtful prosecutorial claim made it look like Renzi was setting up the exchange to benefit himself.
At that first and only meeting between Aries and Renzi, Aries even boasted that the entire proposed land exchange — which included the Sandlin property — “met Babbitt’s gold standard.” Why would Renzi not feel comfortable at that point, with a former Democratic Secretary of the Interior approving of the exchange? If including the Sandlin property was so wrong, why did Babbitt approve it?
The problem is, what judge is going to risk taking on and implicating Babbitt in all this? The Babbitts are one of the most powerful, longstanding families in Arizona, heavily tied into the Democratic machine that controls much of the legal system.
This sordid prosecution also ties back to the powerful Keating Five, another powerhouse Renzi was facing. Ron Ober, campaign manager and chief of staff for former Arizona Democratic Senator Dennis DeConcini — who successfully escaped with a mere wrist-slap finding against him for his role in the scandal due, it would seem, to his immense power and influence — was hired as a lobbyist to represent the Resolution Copper Company to procure the land exchange through Renzi. Ober was also a friend of Charles Keating, Jr. Keating served four-and-a-half years in prison for the Keating Five savings and loan scandal, but Ober managed to distance himself and escape any tarnishing from that association.
Ober told Renzi that if he didn’t agree to push through the land exchange, Resoluton Copper would go to Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe instead, which would make Renzi look bad since the land exchange was located in Renzi’s district. Ober asked him if there were any other properties that should be included in the land exchange, and Renzi suggested he speak to The Nature Conservancy, the military officials at Fort Huachuca and Senator McCain’s office, all of whom had told him that they wanted to see the Sandlin property included in the next land exchange in order to save the Fort and the San Pedro River.
In fact, the court record shows that many supported including the Sandlin property in the exchange, including two mayors from Sierra Vista, the chair of the Cochise County Supervisors, the Fort Huachaca 50 business council and a host of other officials from around the state. The alfalfa farmer using the Sandlin property was draining massive water from the land. Renzi reluctantly agreed to the land exchange, but he still had concerns about allowing a foreign-owned company run by a South African to buy out a significant amount of Arizona’s resources. Renzi also revealed verbally to Resolution Copper, and on his public financial disclosure statements, that Sandlin was a former business associate and that Renzi would recuse himself if that was an issue.
Ober and the powerful, connected Democrats working with him representing Resolution Copper then started getting pushy, demanding that Renzi ram through the legislation on their timeline. They never liked Renzi from the start, not wanting a Republican to get the credit for a land exchange that would benefit so many parties, including Native Americans, the Fort Huachuca military base and the Nature Conservancy. Eventually they turned against him. They secretly decided to scrap the deal and just went through the motions, setting Renzi up for a fall by pretending that he had proposed the land exchange — namely the Sandlin property inclusion — since they had figured out Sandlin loosely owed Renzi money and they could say that Renzi had set it up to benefit Sandlin so Sandlin could pay him back. Eventually Renzi discovered they even had a name for the plot to take him down: “Operation Eagle.”
The reality is, Sandlin easily could have reimbursed Renzi at any time. He owned free and clear a property that was worth in excess of $5 million, which he could easily have used to obtain a loan to pay Renzi back.
I’ve still never met Rick Renzi. But the more I investigate this case, the sicker to my stomach I get.
Here in a nutshell is what seems to have happened: South African Bruno Hagner, who lived in Arizona, developed and executed a plan called Operation Eagle to take out an innocent U.S. Congressman. This former executive of Resolution Copper and his co-conspirators should be investigated by an independent counsel. All electronic records where Hagner discusses Operation Eagle should be investigated and turned over to Renzi’s attorneys. There also needs to be an electioneering investigation into Hagner and the DOJ employees named in the Justice Department memo who were targeting Renzi and leaking information about the FBI investigation to hurt Renzi’s reelection chances.
With so much leaked evidence of criminal activity, it is time for a reexamination of the entire land exchange and prosecution. Indeed, it’s time for a congressional investigation. Otherwise the process of electing our representatives will never be safe from foreign predators.
Meanwhile, Judge Bury was made aware of this new information in July. Will he stand up to the powerful corrupt interests, or will he let an innocent man languish in prison?