Story highlights

Rick Renzi convicted in scheme to profit from federal land exchange, misusing money

Before trial, ex-congressman tried to use "speech and debate" clause to avoid prosecution

Appeals court denied that effort, saying Congress members are not "supercitizens"

CNN  — 

A former Arizona congressman was sentenced to three years in prison Monday after his June conviction on federal corruption charges.

Former U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi, 54, was indicted in 2008 on charges of extortion, bribery, insurance fraud, money laundering and racketeering related to a 2005 money-laundering scheme that netted the Flagstaff Republican more than $700,000.

“Mr. Renzi abused the power – and the corresponding trust – that comes with being a member of Congress by putting his own financial interests over the interests of the citizens he had sworn to serve,” said Mythili Raman, acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

Renzi’s lawyers hoped to prevent the ex-congressman’s prosecution on the grounds that it would violate the Constitution’s “speech or debate” clause, a privilege reserved for lawmakers that protects them and their staff from legal action over “legislative” acts.

That argument was rejected throughout the appeal process.

“The Speech or Debate Clause does not make members of Congress supercitizens immune from criminal responsibility,” the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel said in a unanimous 45-page ruling last summer.

When the Supreme Court decided not to intervene in January, the trial was able to proceed.

According to evidence that emerged during the six-month trial, Renzi, then representing Arizona’s 1st Congressional District, promised to use his legislative influence to profit from a federal land exchange that involved property owned by his co-defendant, real-estate investor James Sandlin.

Sandlin was sentenced Monday to 18 months for his role in the racket.

Renzi was also accused of misappropriating money from his family insurance business to fund his campaigns and for personal benefit.

“He fleeced his own insurance company to fund his run for Congress and then exploited his position for personal gain,” Raman said. Mr. Renzi’s conviction and today’s sentence demonstrate the Justice Department’s commitment to fighting corruption at the highest levels of government.”