Shortly after he was nominated for the Department of Justice’s top spot, Sen. Jeff Session was called on to begin an investigation into the prosecution of former lawmaker, Rick Renzi. Renzi, a congressman from Arizona was convicted, in a split verdict, on charges involving two proposed federal land exchanges
At issue are the actions of a former Assistant U.S. Attorney and an FBI agent, involved in what many believed was a politically motivated prosecution.
“The DOJ’s investigation of Renzi originated with a South African citizen named Bruno Hagner, who was the head of Resolution Copper. The foreigner wanted Renzi to give his company the right to mine on federal lands that were sacred to Renzi’s Native American constituents,” reported Rachel Alexander for The Hill. “When Renzi sought to change Hagner’s proposal to mitigate the environmental fallout and help the Apaches, Hagner decided that he wanted someone else to hold Renzi’s congressional seat. Hagner launched a plan to take out Renzi that he called “Operation Eagle,” which involved paying off a retired FBI agent to pass along false allegations against Renzi to Tucson FBI Agent Daniel Odom.”
According to Alexander, “Renzi filed a motion for a new trial, and the judge ruled that the evidence proved that the FBI had concealed “important” information about its meetings and offers of money with Aries, that Odom had induced Aries to continue cooperating by dangling a financial reward, that Aries believed that he deserved a reward for his cooperation, and that the prosecutors’ argument about Aries having not received “one thin dime” was, in the court’s words, “disingenuous” and “misleading to the jury.” Yet bizarrely, the court dismissed its own findings, saying they were “immaterial,” and denied the request for a new trial.”
Earlier this month, Renzi was released from prison. Since the time of his conviction in 2013, Renzi has been confined in a federal prison in Morgantown, West Virginia, and a federal Bureau of Prisons facility in Washington, D.C.
Through his attorney, Kelly B. Kramer, Renzi seeks to overturn the denial of his request for a new trial. Although he is now a free man, Renzi wants to clear his name. Renzi’s appeal is scheduled to be heard in the Ninth Circuit Court in March.
DOJ destroys reputations including its own
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona has been plagued with scandals. From Dennis Burke and his role in Fast and Furious to John Leonardo; the office has selectively prosecuted cases based on a political agenda.
In January 2015, Judge Francis Allegra, a President Clinton appointee, accused DOJ attorneys of “fraud upon the court” in a case brought by former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent Jay Dobyns. Dobyns accused the ATF of retaliating against him and damaging his reputation after he blew the whistle on the Agency.
There is a running, not so funny joke: what is now known in Arizona as prosecutorial discretion; is known elsewhere as public corruption.
On the eve of his release, Renzi’s attorney told Fortune magazine, “We don’t believe in the United States that criminal convictions stand when the government violates those basic obligations.”
Most people would agree with that statement, but when it comes to politically motivated prosecutions or the use of “prosecutorial discretion” to ignore public corruption, the courts can only do so much. When the corruption is systemic, change must from the top. That is why the call for Session’s intercession in the Renzi case is gaining support, and calls for a clean-up of the Department are increasing.
Unfortunately justice in America is too often available only to the wealthy. Unlike too many other men and women who have been convicted of crimes due to highly questionable actions by prosecutors or shoddy jobs by indigent defense attorneys, Renzi could afford high quality legal representation.
Like too many of the poor, who have been caught up in the government’s politically motivated war on drugs; no lawyer in the world could have gotten justice for Renzi given the prosecutors’ concerted effort to deny it.
“Prison is a form of hell”
Renzi’s odyssey began in 2007. From the day FBI agents raided his family home in April 2007, to January 8, 2017 when he walked away a free man from a halfway house, Renzi has lived a nightmare.
“Prison is a form of hell, where isolation and despair can be overwhelming,” Renzi told the ADI. “It will take me time and a period of adjustment, but I hope to come back stronger and with a great desire to make a contribution to society.”
“There is no real oversight over the DOJ. Sinister political motives have controlled the outcome of a few cases. Most of the attorney’s working within the Dept of Justice are good people, but they have so much power that when one of them uses it for political gain it becomes such a tyrannical abuse of power that they are able to crush all opposition,” said Renzi.
“The system must change,” said Renzi. One change he would like to see is in the area of discovery. “All evidence held by a prosecutor must be turned over to the defendant prior to trial,” argues Renzi. “No longer should the prosecutor get to decide what evidence should be turned over to the defendant and what he can subjectively withhold and even deliberately cover up.”
“There is hope,” says Renzi. “The Supreme Court will be looking into this abuse of power in the Court’s Spring Session. Two cases are scheduled to be argued before the justices on this subject of disclosure of evidence and what rights a defendant has to this evidence.”
“We fight on as best we can against the DOJ that rarely ever loses, never seriously disciplines the corrupt officials within their ranks and is the most powerful agency in the U.S. government.” Therefore, I have a life time of work ahead of me.”