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High court rejects appeal of former congressman

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
updated 11:03 AM EST, Tue January 17, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Former U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi faces federal corruption charges
  • He argues evidence was presented improperly by the Justice Department
  • The high court's decision not to intervene means the trial can now be held

Washington (CNN) -- The federal prosecution of former U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi of Arizona will continue after the Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to hear his appeal.

Renzi, a 54-year-old Republican, faces federal corruption charges related to an alleged illegal land-swap deal 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.

In his high court challenge, he claimed evidence obtained by the Justice Department was improperly presented to a grand jury, in violation of the Constitution's "speech or debate" clause reserved for lawmakers.

A federal appeals court last summer rejected the arguments. "The Supreme Court has made equally clear that the Speech or Debate Clause does not make members of Congress supercitizens immune from criminal responsibility," the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel said in its 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. The high court's decision not to intervene means the trial can now be held.

FBI agents raided Renzi's 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.

Other lawmakers have sought to shield themselves from prosecution using the speech or 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 (11-557).

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