January 17, 2012 | 2:58pm
Time was, when Rick Renzi was an up-and-comer in Arizona's (even national) Republican circles, a staunch conservative from Flagstaff who first won election to Congress in 2002.
These days, however, Renzi is just another schlub facing a big-time criminal corruption rap, in his case that he (among other charges) tried to extort land developers and copper-mining officials in Arizona in exchange for congressional favors.
In 2008, federal prosecutors had him indicted on charges of conspiracy, money laundering, wire fraud and insurance fraud.
The case has been simmering since then, in and out of trial and appellate courts on myriad procedural issues.
But earlier today, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand an earlier federal appellate ruling rejecting Renzi's contention that prosecutors illegally had based the charges against him on his official legislative acts.
That, Renzi's defense team suggested, had violated the a Constitutional clause that protects the independence of lawmakers by allowing them immunity for their legislative activities.
But as of today, all tribunals from the trial level to the highest court in the land have rejected that argument, holding that Renzi committed his alleged crimes while acting outside the legislative arena.
In the back-patting (our own, that is), we would be remiss if we didn't point out that Renzi's indictment came after our former colleague Sarah Fenske (now toiling in Los Angeles as the editor of our sister rag out there, the LA Weekly) broke this classic little story
entitled "Deal Breaker."
It spells out concisely (or at least our long-form narrative version of such) why Mr. Renzi someday may be sitting in a prison cell someplace, if his criminal case ever does get to trial.
For various reasons, including serious legal misfires by federal prosecutors along the way, this case continues to linger in the criminal-justice system, almost four years after Renzi's first of two grand-jury indictments.
The gentleman chose not to run for re-election after winning his third two-year term in 2006, probably a wise idea in terms of what lay ahead for him.
One of the still-pending charges against Renzi is that he had pressured a mining company in 2005 to purchase land in Cochise County from one of his recent business associates, a Texas real-estate player.
The sale came just one week after the congressman announced sponsorship of a land-exchange law that would have allowed the mining company to buy federal park land above a large (and lucrative) deposit of copper for millions of dollars more than the Texas guy had bought it for a few years earlier.
The land swap law never did become law, but Renzi's heavy-handed and allegedly felonious machinations caught the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice, even though the president at the time, George W. Bush, personally had campaigned on Renzi's behalf at different times.