TUCSON – Lawyers for former U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi have objected to a federal magistrate’s denial of their motion to dismiss the public corruption case against him on constitutional grounds.
Renzi’s lawyers contend that the government violated the U.S. Constitution’s “speech or debate” clause in wiretapping his conversations with aides concerning a failed land swap deal in which he’s been accused of conspiracy.
Renzi represented Arizona’s sprawling 1st Congressional District, which takes in eight of the state’s 15 counties, for three terms before declining to seek re-election last November.
The 51-year-old lawyer and businessman also faces charges including racketeering, extortion, insurance fraud and money-laundering.
His attorneys filed an objection to Judge Bernardo Velasco’s report and recommendation on July 7, saying that the judge erred in how he interpreted protections given congressmen under the constitutional provision for their legislative acts.
Velasco held hearings last winter and earlier this year before issuing his report last month to U.S. District Judge David Bury, who will hear Renzi’s scheduled trial next year.
Renzi’s was named in a revised 44-count indictment handed up in November 2008, accused of engineering a swap of federally owned mining land to benefit himself and a former business partner, James Sandlin, one of three co-defendants.
He allegedly told two potential groups interested in acquiring federal land that they would have to buy 480 acres owned by Sandlin in southeastern Arizona to get Renzi’s help in sponsoring legislation required for the land swap.
Renzi also is accused of having misappropriated insurance company premiums in collaboration with the other co-defendants, Andrew Beardall and Dwayne Lequire, as well as making a false statement on his 2005 tax return by failing to report as income money he received from Sandlin at issue 2in the public corruption offenses.
All four have pleaded not guilty.
Among their contentions, Renzi’s lawyers said Velasco erroneously concluded that Renzi’s alleged actions were not legislative fact-finding, investigation and negotiation with proponents of a land exchange protected by the speech or debate clause, and that the judge also wrongly held that the government’s allegations that Renzi acted with criminal intent striped him of those protections.
The defense attorneys also contended that Velasco was wrong to determine that violations by the government in providing protected material to the grand jury do not require that the indictment be dismissed.
Legal staff for the U.S. House of Representatives filed a friend-of-the-court brief last year contending that federal prosecutors and the FBI repeatedly violated the speech or debate clause.
In his ruling, Velasco found that was “simply no evidence that the introduction of legislative acts before the grand jury was a factor in the issuance of the indictment… Renzi has failed to demonstrate to this court how any of the alleged legislative act evidence, if excised, would be fatal to the superseding indictment.”