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SCOTUS Turns Down Former Rep. Rick Renzi’s Appeal of Legal Assault

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

A week ago the Supreme Court turned down an appeal from former Republican Congressman Rick Renzi, who began serving a three-year prison term in February. In 2006, a left-leaning U.S. Attorney in Arizona saw an opportunity to take out the popular, charismatic conservative Congressman by going after him over a confusing and complicated land deal. Renzi was an easy target because the facts were so complex there was little chance the general public would figure out how the law was being manipulated to selectively target him. This type of targeting has become a common pattern by the left; similar tactics were used against former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, former Congressman Bob MacDonnell and a district attorney in Texas. Representing a swing district, once Renzi’s credibility was destroyed, it became easy to turn the seat over to a Democrat.


Renzi was found guilty on 17 counts of using his office for personal financial gain and taking $400,000 in corporate money from his family insurance business to fund his campaign. He was convicted of proposing a land swap deal in Congress to benefit a man who owed him money, so the man could afford to pay him back. It is true that he suggested The Aries Group purchase an alfalfa farm near Sierra Vista owned by James Sandlin, and he proposed legislation swapping out the land for copper-rich land owned by the federal government. The sale went through at fair market value, shortly after Sandlin paid Renzi $733,000. Sandlin was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

However, the government never provided any evidence that The Aries Group’s purchase of the property provided Sandlin with the money to pay Renzi back. The land swap legislation never went into effect. In fact, Sandlin paid off the debt in September 2005 with a loan he had taken out for $900,000. He did not receive the money from The Aries Group until October 2005, a month after he had repaid the debt, which he put into escrow. Additionally, he had multiple properties he could have sold to repay the debt. He had been making regular payments on the debt since it originated over a handshake in 2003, and there was no indication whatsoever that he was going to discontinue payments. Perhaps most importantly, Renzi would not have received any benefit from the land swap. The land swap was simply not related to the debt.


Renzi’s proposed legislative land swap would have protected the San Pedro River, benefited the Fort Huachuca military base and enabled development of a huge copper mine near Superior. The alfalfa farmer renting Sandlin’s property had been using an excessive amount of water in a region that was facing chronic water shortages. Fort Huachuca was facing criticism itself over water usage and was under a federal court order to reduce its water consumption. Several people, including a representative from the Nature Conservancy, testified about the importance of the swap. Incredibly, the court disallowed evidence related to Fort Huachuca.

It all began when Resolution Copper Company acquired rights to a large copper deposit near Superior, Arizona, but also needed some adjacent property owned by the U.S. Forest Service. Since Renzi was on the House Natural Resources Committee, RCC asked Renzi which property it should purchase to swap for the federal land, and Renzi naturally suggested the Sandlin parcel, seeing it as a win-win since it would eliminate the problem of the excessive water usage. The deal with RCC fell through, and instead The Aries Group began negotiations with Renzi.

The other counts Renzi was convicted on involved a loan he made to his campaign from his insurance company. No clients were harmed, and it is common for a candidate to loan their campaign money. Prosecutors nitpicked the details of the money going back and forth between clients and Renzi in order to claim he had spent their premiums and gotten their insurance policies canceled - but not a single client was ever affected.


The court further found that Renzi failed to disclose his financial dealings related to the Sandlin debt, but in cases involving a fellow Arizona Democrat elected official who failed to report financial dealings related to decisions she made as a county supervisor, the Ninth Circuit not only looked the other way but affirmed her $975,000 award over the stress of being prosecuted.

Renzi had no chance appealing to the Ninth Circuit. Two of the three judges on his panel lean left, and the third likely does as well. Judge Richard Tallman, who wrote the opinion affirming the lower court, was appointed by President Clinton, and Judge Consuelo Callahan is considered a liberal appointee to the bench by President George W. Bush. Judge Sandra Segal Ikuta, although appointed by Bush, appears to have a history as an environmental activist lawyer and was tellingly approved 81-0 by the Senate after a more conservative candidate had been filibustered by Democrats.

The U.S. Attorney from Arizona who prosecuted Renzi was Paul Charlton, who has a long history of targeting conservatives. During the initial investigation of Renzi, his behavior became so suspicious – likely leaking news of the investigation to the media in order to influence Renzi’s reelection prospects – that an unnamed official within the DOJ was forced to warn people in 2006 in a thinly disguised statement that it might be politically motivated. President Bush fired Charlton in 2007, but when Obama became president he kept the prosecution going. It is incredibly ironic that Charlton was not prosecuted himself and continues to get plum appointments in Arizona. He claims to be a registered Republican but supports Democrats, including the last Democrat who ran for Arizona governor.


Prosecutors attempted to obtain a sentence of nine to 12 years in prison. Since FBI agents improperly eavesdropped on Renzi’s phone conversations with attorneys and misled the judge about their activities, the federal district court judge agreed with Renzi’s attorneys that some prosecution witnesses had made false statements in court and gave him a lesser sentence. However, he refused to overturn the jury’s verdict or grant a retrial.

The father of 12 children, Renzi was very active in the pro-life movement, which likely made him more of a target. The Ninth Circuit court opinion brazenly admitted that his insurance company specialized “in obtaining insurance coverage for non-profit organizations and crisis pregnancy centers.” He worked two to three jobs at a time in order to support his family, allowing his wife to stay at home. His life and career reflect a long history of care and concern for others, donating money, time and more. The crimes he was convicted of do not reflect his character, which is more upstanding and commendable than the vast majority of people. Tellingly, at his sentencing two years ago, he did not admit guilt or express remorse.

Sadly, the U.S. Supreme Court is extremely limited as to how many cases it can accept each year. The court receives about 10,000 petitions for a writ of certiorari each year, and only accepts about 75-80. Preference is given to cases that settle some highly disputed area of law, and this did not rise to that level.


Renzi’s career and reputation were successfully destroyed over nine years of highly publicized legal proceedings against him. The community turned against him, and his children were ridiculed at school. At age 57, he will be 60 by the time he finishes his prison term.

As long as there are Democrat presidents, the DOJ targeting of conservative elected officials is going to continue. Unfortunately, conservatives are less attracted to government jobs than Democrats – including government attorney and judicial positions – they would much rather become successful in the private sector. This has allowed the left to dominate the legal profession and essentially use it to terrorize conservatives. There is a clique in the legal profession, and if you don’t go along with the left-leaning status quo, you are ostracized and despised. The higher one climbs, to judge or U.S. Attorney, the more the pressure increases.

Democrat politicians break serious campaign laws all the time, and left-leaning prosecutors and judges find excuses to let them off the hook. It is called selective prosecution and it is increasing. Now you know why your friends on the left claim, “Republicans are just as corrupt as Democrats.”

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