A federal jury yesterday handed a guilty verdict to Rick Renzi's accountant, Dwayne Lequire, for embezzling $796,000 from the former Congressman's company -- and conspiring with Renzi to do it.
He faces up to 85 years in prison when he's sentenced on October 18.The disgraced, former Republican Congressman from Tucson still faces his own trial on charges of insurance fraud, money laundering and extortion.
Andrew Beardall, former general counsel for the Renzi company, had also been charged with a lesser role in the scheme and was tried jointly with Lequire, according to a news release by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Phoenix. Prosecutors had alleged that Beardall lied to insurance regulators who were investigating a previous embezzlement by Renzi that helped fund the Congressman's first campaign.
Beardall was acquitted on all charges.
The government's case was much stronger in Lequire's case.[jump]
The government alleged that Lequire and Renzi stole money that was supposed to be held in trust for customers of the Renzi-owned business, Patriot Insurance.
In one payment in June of 2006, the U.S. Attorney's Office says, Lequire moved $263,000 from Patriot to Renzi's personal accounts. Renzi then used the cash to pay a $200,000 bill from the IRS and numerous airline tickets for his family.
As a March 2008 New Times article explained, Renzi wasn't cheating just anybody -- he was stealing from the very people who looked to the conservative Congressman for leadership:
Renzi's insurance company specialized in nonprofit agencies -- particularly right-to-life groups and crisis pregnancy centers.
We don't know exactly which clients' premiums were embezzled (Renzi's lawyer didn't return calls for comment), but records from the Arizona Department of Insurance suggest that they included nearly a dozen local agencies -- pregnancy clinics from Tucson to Flagstaff, a Boys & Girls Club in Sierra Vista, and even Arizona Right-to-Life were left temporarily uninsured. So Renzi was vowing to represent right-to-life interests in Washington even as he allegedly swiped money from the very groups that help pregnant women who choose life in Arizona.
Former New Times columnist Sarah Fenske also broke the story that led to many of the counts standing against Renzi involving his former business partner, James Sandlin, and a crooked land deal.
Lequire, 51, could be sentenced up to 10 years for each of the eight counts of embezzling insurance premiums of which he was found guilty, plus up to five years for the conspiracy charge. He's still out on his own recognizance, say the feds -- saying his goodbyes, no doubt.