Renzi Pleads Not Guilty to Expanded Charges as Pretrial Hearing Continues

Posted December 5, 2008 at 2:04pm

During the first day of an extensive pre-trial hearing, Rep. Rick Renzi’s (R-Ariz.) defense attorney Gene Weingarten and government prosecutors also sparred over whether the case is in violation of the Constitution’s Speech or Debate clause, according to an Associated Press report.

Renzi’s attorneys have alleged that investigators violated the Speech or Debate protections when they wiretapped Renzi’s mobile phone and have asked for the case to be thrown out of court.

“When the history of the Renzi case is told, I believe it will be about the speech-or-debate clause,” Weingarten said in court, the AP reported. “I believe the speech-or-debate clause dominates this case.”

But federal prosecutors dismissed that argument, asserting that a lawmaker’s activities are not protected when a Member promises a vote in exchange for a particular act.

Prosecutor Andrew Levchuk said Renzi’s defense “too broadly construes a legislative act to include any conversation with anyone,” the AP reported.

Federal prosecutors charged Renzi with a 44-count indictment that alleged the Republican used his legislative position to push a land deal to benefit former business partner James Sandlin, who owed him money. Renzi also is alleged to have embezzled money from his family’s insurance firm to finance his first campaign.

Renzi attorney Weingarten denied those accusations Thursday. According to NBC affiliate KVOA NEWS 4, Weingarten told the court: “Congressman Renzi did not solicit a bribe from the land swappers. He did with the land swappers engage in typical capitol hill negotiations and compromises and discussions and information gathering that goes on Capitol Hill each and every day.”

The pre-trial hearing is continuing Friday.

Two other co-conspirators did not appear in court Thursday, according to the AP. Both Andrew Beardall, former president and general counsel of Renzi’s insurance agency and Dwayne Lequire, an accountant who worked for Renzi’s insurance agency are also under indictment in the case.

Sandlin was sentenced in a separate federal case last month in Texas and is already scheduled to serve a multi-year prison term.

Renzi is scheduled to go on trial in late March 2009. He did not seek re-election to his 1st district seat.