On Thursday, a 3rd Court of Appeals panel reversed the money-laundering and conspiracy convictions against former US House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. The panel was split 2 to 1, along party lines. DeLay’s appellate lawyer said he told his client, “When I see you, I’m going to dump a Gatorade bucket over your head. We won the Super Bowl,” the American-Statesman reports.
Seven years ago, DeLay’s career was ended after he was indicted on one count of conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws, one count of conspiracy to launder money, and one count of money laundering. In 2005, a charge against DeLay of conspiracy to violate the Texas election code was dropped. In 2011, he was sentenced to 3 years in prison, but was released on a $10,000 bond about 3 hours after his sentencing.
In 2002, DeLay used his “Texas for a Republican Majority” PAC to funnel $190,000 of corporate money to the Republican National Committee. The RNC then transferred that same amount to seven Texas House candidates – a clear violation of Texas campaign laws that prohibit corporations from contributing to local elections.
The maximum penalty for the money laundering charge would have been life in prison; the maximum for conspiracy to launder money would have been 20 years.
After his indictment, DeLay and his attorneys said the charges were nothing more than a partisan attack by prosecutor and District Attorney Ronnie Earle. In 2011, DeLay told the judge, “I can’t be remorseful for something I don’t think I did.”
DeLay claimed Democrats had been “trying to find a way to destroy him since 1995,” the Houston Chronicle reports. Throughout the years, DeLay has maintained the position that nothing he did was illegal or unethical, and that all his troubles are the result of a Democratic conspiracy to bring him down.
“This criminalization of politics is very dangerous. It’s dangerous to our system. Just because somebody disagrees with you they got to put you in jail, bankrupt you, destroy your family,” he said in 2011.
What is dangerous to our system is allowing political figures to get away with criminal activities. DeLay’s money laundering charge offered him and his party political benefits, whereas most money laundering charges against politicians have involved financial benefits.
“I recognize that this case is the first of its kind and there is very much a possibility an appellate court will disagree with me,” Senior Judge Pat Priest said before he sentenced DeLay in 2011.
The Appellate Court on Thursday ruled that there was “legally insufficient evidence” during DeLay’s 2010 trial.
Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg has promised that she will appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. “We are absolutely going to appeal it,” she said. “We strongly disagree with the opinion.”
Prosecutors said the money DeLay and his associates swapped helped the GOP take control of the Texas House and enabled them to push through DeLay’s congressional redistricting plan, which sent more Republicans to Congress. But in a 22-page opinion, the Appellate Court said the prosecution “failed in its burden to prove that the funds that were delivered to the seven candidates were ever tainted,” the Daily Mail reports.
The majority opinion noted that because the corporate money and the campaign donations were kept in separate accounts, the money was “not tainted.”