A judge has ruled that wiretaps federal investigators collected while investigating former U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi for corruption can’t be used in his upcoming trial.
U.S. District Judge David C. Bury in Tucson said in a ruling filed late last week that FBI agents and federal prosecutors “conducted an unreasonable wholesale interception of calls they knew to be attorney-client communications.”
The recording of calls between the former Arizona congressman and lawyers representing him in other matters, and the failure to inform the judge overseeing the wiretap search warrant, was so serious that all the recorded evidence should be excluded at trial, Bury said.
Renzi faces money laundering, insurance fraud, racketeering and other charges. He and three co-defendants have pleaded not guilty.
The judge declined to toss the entire 47-count indictment. He found that the wiretaps didn’t affect Renzi’s ability to effectively consult with his defense lawyers and that the government wasn’t relying on them or evidence collected because of them in pursuing the case. He also determined that prosecutors had not accessed most of the privileged calls.
The wiretaps were a major part of the evidence against Renzi, a Republican who did not seek re-election to a fourth term in Congress after his 2008 indictment.
The government still has documents and witnesses it can use to build a case, and Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said prosecutors plan to move forward. She declined further comment Wednesday, citing policy against speaking about pending cases.
One of Renzi’s Washington-based defense lawyers, Kelly Kramer, also declined to comment.
Renzi is accused of trying to arrange a swap of federal land to benefit himself and a former business partner who is a co-defendant. The indictment alleges that Renzi and James Sandlin concealed at least $733,000 that the congressman took for helping seal the land deals.
The ex-lawmaker also is accused of funding his campaigns with cash raided from his family-owned insurance firm. Two other co-defendants are also accused in that matter and are set to go on trial later this month.
A trial date for Renzi and Sandlin has not been set.
Renzi represented Arizona’s sprawling 1st Congressional District, which stretches from the state’s northeast corner to areas west of Prescott and south of Casa Grande.