Yesterday, June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by Richard Renzi, the former congressman from Arizona who appealing the decision in the Renzi v. U.S. case. The San Francisco’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had upheld the two convictions he was trying to readdress. According to Politico; Renzi, who represented the 1st district in Arizona from 2003 to 2009, was found guilty in 2013 on 17 charges including “racketeering, wire fraud, extortion, conspiracy to commit money laundering, making false statements to insurance regulators, and transactions involving criminally derived funds…”
The Supreme Court has denied to review Renzi’s case in the pass, so the refusal to hear this appeal does not come as a great surprise. Renzi has raised concerns about whether the FBI wiretapping of his phones violated the Speech and Debate Clause of the Constitution, which a congressman explains, “…shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their attendance at the Session of their Respective Houses, and in going to and from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.”
To counter Renzi’s appeals, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a group that monitors politicians and informs the public of unethical behavior, has provided an Amicus Brief to the District Court of Arizona in support of the charges. In this brief, CREW acknowledges the importance of the Speech and Debate Clause, yet argues that when the integrity of the office these individuals hold is vulnerable to being compromised, it is appropriate to seek convictions. CREW compares the conduct of the former congressman, the pressuring of private companies to purchase land and the funneling of money through his personal insurance company to any other criminal behavior that ought to be prosecuted.
Renzi is reported to have funneled over $700,000 through his insurance company, and to have taken significant steps to cover-up these actions from authorities. He did this in coordination with his business partner James Sandlin, who owed him money. This cooperation between the two earned them their conspiracy charges. Sandlin was charged and convicted with 13 felonies which included, in addition to conspiracy, “wire fraud, money laundering and extortion.”
CREW argues in their Brief that if the courts had allowed Renzi to be successful in appealing his charges that have earned him a three-year prison sentence, they would have essentially been exempting politicians from all criminal conduct. CREW continues to explain that no societal class should be above the law, and that prosecuting this case was the appropriate course of action.
The Supreme Court’s decision to refuse to hear Renzi’s appeal was not a surprise. It appears that even the Department of Justice (DOJ) agreed with CREW’s memorandum, when it appealed the dismissal of several charges by the 9th Circuit Court in 2011. The DOJ was successful in reversing this dismissal at the 9th Circuit Appeals Court, where the court cited the Supreme Court’s stance on such issues: “the Supreme Court has made clear that the Speech or Debate Clause does not ‘make Members of Congress super-citizens immune from criminal responsibility.’”
By Joel Wickwire
Edited by Chanel van der Woodsen
Bloomberg Politics: “Ex-House Member Rick Renzi Rejected by U.S. Supreme Court on Conviction.”
Politico: “Former Rep. Rick Renzi convicted in corruption trial.”
Yahoo! News: “U.S. top court rejects convicted congressman Renzi’s appeal.”
CREW: Amicus Brief
Photo Courtesy of lsmadison’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inline Photo Courtesy of Obama-Biden Transition Project’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License