The congressman who once represented Rim Country must report to prison by Jan. 13, now that a federal judge has refused his request to remain free on bail while he appeals his convictions for corruption and money laundering.
Rick Renzi once represented all of Rim Country before deciding not to run again while facing charges that he attempted to manipulate a federal land swap to benefit a former business partner, who then paid Renzi some $800,000.
The Republican Renzi was succeeded by Anne Kirkpatrick (D-Flagstaff) in Congressional District 1, which included all of Rim Country and much of Northern Arizona. Kirkpatrick was unseated after a single term by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Prescott). Gosar was re-elected after redistricting shifted Northern Gila County into District 4, which includes Prescott and most of western Arizona. Ironically, Kirkpatrick was at the same time re-elected in Congressional District 1, which still included all of southern Gila County.
The charges against Renzi stemmed from his involvement in the effort to swap federal and for private land to allow Resolution Copper to excavate a massive copper mine near Superior.
Efforts to make that land swap continue five years after Renzi’s last term ended in 2009.
A jury convicted both Renzi and his former business partner, James Sandlin. The jury convicted Renzi on 17 felony counts and decided Renzi had used his office for personal gain and had also effectively looted a family insurance business to funnel money into his 2002 campaign.
Normally, things like land swaps that require an act of Congress depend on the approval of the local congressman. Renzi approached federal officials trying to put together a land swap to allow the copper mine and suggested he would support the land trade if they included parcels owned by Sandlin for about $2.6 million. Sandlin then paid Renzi $533,000, which Renzi said was just the repayment of a business debt.
Renzi insisted on his innocence and fought the charges doggedly. He claimed congressional immunity protected his actions and also contested wiretaps that included his lawyer and other members of Congress.
Last June, a federal court judge sentenced him to serve three years in prison and pay a $20,000 fine. Renzi promptly appealed the conviction, while remaining free on bail.
This week, U.S. District Judge David Bury denied Renzi’s request to remain free on bail while awaiting the appeal.
Renzi’s arrest and conviction cast a shadow over land swap efforts, including the effort by an international mining company to trade 2,500 acres near Superior for 5,300 acres of environmentally sensitive land scattered throughout the state. Resolution Copper wants to mine a deeply buried copper deposit worth an estimated $61 billion.
Both Rep. Gosar and Rep. Kirkpatrick has strongly supported the land trade, but the effort to approve the trade stalled in Congress late last year after the San Carlos Apache Tribe said the mining operations would damage an area they hold sacred. Experts say the mining operations deep below the surface could cause subsidence in the Oak Flat area, which is popular with rock climbers and an area where Apache go to gather sacred plants and stage ceremonies.