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Ex-Rep. Rick Renzi of Arizona loses appeal on corruption charges

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
  • Renzi faces corruption charges related to an alleged illegal land-swap deal
  • He says clause in Constitution protects him from legal action
  • Federal appeals court says "speech and debate" clause does not apply

(CNN) -- The federal prosecution of former U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi of Arizona will continue, a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled Thursday. The three-judge panel said the lawmaker's actions were not protected by the Constitution's "speech and debate" clause.

"Despite Renzi's best efforts to convince us otherwise, we agree with the district court that the alleged choices and actions for which he is being prosecuted lie beyond those limits" of protected activity, the court said in a unanimous 45-page ruling.

The privilege protects lawmakers and staffers from legal action over "legislative" acts. The pending trial had been on hold while the constitutional issues were being appealed.

Republican Renzi, 53, faces federal corruption charges related to an alleged illegal land-swap deal, allegedly designed to help a business associate pay back $700,000 owed the lawmaker. He is also accused of misappropriating money from his family insurance business to fund his campaigns and for personal benefit.

The charges include conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, extortion and insurance fraud.

FBI agents raided his family business in 2007, and he was indicted a year later. He decided not to seek re-election in 2008. He has pleaded not guilty.

"The Supreme Court has made equally clear that the Speech or Debate Clause does not make members of Congress supercitizens immune from criminal responsibility," said the appeals court.

Renzi could now appeal his case to the Supreme Court.

Previous lawmakers have sought to shield themselves from prosecution using the "speech and debate" protection, including former Rep. William Jefferson, D-Louisiana. He was convicted and sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2009 for bribery and public corruption while in office.

Renzi represented the large 1st District in his state, centered in Flagstaff.

The case is U.S. v. Renzi (10-10088).