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DeLay, At His Court Proceedings, Says Democrats Have Not ‘Slowed Me Down One Iota’

By Laylan Copelin, Austin-American Statesman

AUSTIN, Texas — Former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, flashing a bit of “The Hammer” persona, returned to court Wednesday to hear oral arguments over his 2010 money laundering and conspiracy convictions.

DeLay, nicknamed “The Hammer” for his combative style in Congress, told reporters he continues to be active in politics behind the scenes after retiring eight years ago because of the felony indictments.

“The Democrats, nor the left, have slowed me down one iota,” said DeLay, flanked by his family and lawyers. “Nothing has changed other than maybe I can get a job.”

Last fall, the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin threw out DeLay’s felony convictions and three-year prison sentence, but Travis County prosecutors are trying to get the state’s highest criminal court to reinstate the 2010 jury verdict. A decision isn’t expected for months.

DeLay’s lawyer, Brian Wice, complained about the “prosecutorial posse” of former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle and his “hand-picked” successor, Rosemary Lehmberg, both Democrats who have pursued the case since 2003.

“There is a fine line between prosecution and persecution, and these folks crossed it a very long time ago,” Wice said.

DeLay’s lawyers have accused Earle of misconduct before, but that allegation has gone nowhere in the courts.

In 2002, DeLay’s Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee traded $190,000 of corporate money, which can’t be given to Texas candidates, for the same amount of legal donations from an arm of the Republican National Committee. The RNC gave its money to seven Texas candidates chosen by DeLay’s committee.

On Wednesday, Travis County prosecutor Holly Taylor told the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that the 3rd Court of Appeals ignored evidence supporting the verdict and failed to defer to the jury’s judgment.

Wice said that DeLay couldn’t be guilty of conspiring to launder money because the corporate donations weren’t illegal.

“You can’t take a series of legal acts and manufacture a crime,” he said. “Unless these (corporate) funds are dirty at the inception, Tom DeLay is not guilty of money laundering.”

Taylor disputed that, saying the corporations gave the money knowing that it would help elect DeLay’s choice of candidates.

“This is a big criminal scheme based on illegal acts,” she said.

In 2002, the political landscape in Texas was very different from today’s Republican dominance.

Despite DeLay’s power in Congress, his political committee was having trouble raising legal donations in Texas because Austin-based lobbyists didn’t want to offend Texas House Speaker Pete Laney, the last powerful Democratic leader in Austin.

DeLay’s associates turned to raising money from national and out-of-state corporations that had business before Congress.

Under state law, corporations couldn’t give directly to Texas candidates, but they could cover the administrative overhead of political action committees such as Texans for a Republican Majority.

The committee, however, had no office or other overhead except salaries for political consultants or polling expenses.

In the final weeks of the campaign, DeLay’s committee had a surplus of corporate money that was about to go unspent. That’s when DeLay’s associates negotiated the $190,000 swap with the RNC.

On Wednesday, several judges focused on whether the corporate donations were “criminal proceeds” necessary in a money laundering case. They cited the testimony of several corporate donors who testified they didn’t intend to violate Texas law.

Taylor dismissed the testimony as self-serving, noting that DeLay’s committee told the donors how it would spend money, including one brochure that said: “Rather than just paying for overhead, your support will fund a series of productive and innovative activities designed to increase our level of engagement in the political arena.”

Photo: Jimmy Bramlett via Flickr

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Texas’ Highest Criminal Court To Hear Tom DeLay Money-Laundering Case

By Laylan Copelin, Austin American-Statesman

AUSTIN, Texas — Tom DeLay’s legal saga will have at least one more chapter.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday agreed to hear the money-laundering and conspiracy charges that ended the political career of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom “The Hammer” DeLay eight years ago.

Last fall, the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin dismissed DeLay’s conviction and three-year prison sentence, saying prosecutors used “legally insufficient evidence” at DeLay’s 2010 trial before a Travis County jury. The vote in favor of the Sugar Land Republican was 2-1, along partisan lines.

Travis County prosecutors appealed that decision. On Wednesday, the state’s highest criminal court agreed to hear the case.

Brian Wice, DeLay’s appellate lawyer, had hoped to persuade the Court of Criminal Appeals to reject the state’s appeal.

“We’re not surprised that the state’s highest criminal court wants to hear a case as important as Tom’s is,” Wice said Wednesday. “We’re confident.”

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said, “I continue to believe that the jury’s verdict was correct. I am pleased and confident that the court will give us fair consideration.”

The long-running case dates back to a $190,000 transaction during the 2002 elections when DeLay and his allies were trying to elect a GOP majority to the Texas Legislature that, in turn, would draw congressional districts more favorable to the GOP.

Under state law, corporations can give money for the overhead expenses of a political action committee but not to a candidate.

Texans for a Republican Majority, a political action committee led by DeLay, exchanged $190,000 of its corporate donations for the same amount from an arm of the Republican National Committee. The national committee’s $190,000, which were legal donations from a separate bank account, went to seven Texas candidates.

The issue is whether the transaction was money laundering or not.

Writing for the majority, 3rd Court Justice Melissa Goodwin said prosecutors failed to prove the $190,000 was “proceeds of criminal activity.”

She noted that the jury asked whether the $190,000 was “illegal at the start of the transaction” or “procured by illegal means originally.”

Goodwin said prosecutors didn’t prove that point — which she said was a critical element to conspiring to launder money — and the trial judge never answered the jurors’ questions. Instead, he referred them to the jury charge.

Holly Taylor, an assistant district attorney, argued that the 3rd Court of Appeals was wrong to throw out DeLay’s conviction.

She wrote in her appeal that the 3rd Court substituted its judgment for that of the jury with regard to the credibility of the witnesses and the weight of the evidence.

Taylor also disputed that the prosecutors had to show that the transaction involved the “very same dollars that were the direct profits of the felonious act.”

Finally, she wrote that the prosecutors shouldn’t have to prove that “the elements of money laundering were completed” in order to prove a conspiracy occurred.

Wice argued that if the state didn’t prove money laundering, it had insufficient evidence for a conspiracy conviction.

He also dismissed the lengthy prosecution as a “purely partisan pursuit.”

Photo: Jimmy Bramlett via Flickr