Former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay — once one of the most powerful and feared Republicans in Congress — was convicted Wednesday on charges he illegally funneled corporate money to Texas candidates in 2002, which could send him to prison for decades.
Jurors deliberated for 19 hours before returning guilty verdicts on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering in a scheme to illegally funnel corporate money to Texas candidates in 2002. He faces up to life in prison on the money laundering charge, although prosecutors haven’t yet recommended a sentence.
After the verdicts were read, DeLay hugged his daughter, Danielle, and his wife, Christine. DeLay whispered into his daughter’s ear that he couldn’t get a fair trial in Austin. DeLay had unsuccessfully tried to get the trial moved out of Austin, the most liberal city in one of the most Republican states
DeLay’s lead attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said they planned to appeal the verdict.
“This is an abuse of power. It’s a miscarriage of justice, and I still maintain that I am innocent. The criminalization of politics undermines our very system and I’m very disappointed in the outcome,” DeLay told reporters outside the courtroom.
He remains free on bond, and several witnesses were expected to be called during the punishment phase of his trial, tentatively scheduled to begin on Dec. 20.
Prosecutors said DeLay, who once held the No. 2 job in the House of Representatives and whose tough tactics earned him the nickname “the Hammer,” used his political action committee to illegally channel $190,000 in corporate donations into 2002 Texas legislative races through a money swap.
DeLay and his attorneys maintained the former Houston-area congressman did nothing wrong as no corporate funds went to Texas candidates and the money swap was legal.
The verdict came after a three-week trial in which prosecutors presented more than 30 witnesses and volumes of e-mails and other documents. DeLay’s attorneys presented five witnesses.
“This case is a message from the citizens of the state of Texas that the public officials they elect to represent them must do so honestly and ethically, and if not, they’ll be held accountable,” Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said after the verdict.
Lehmberg said prosecutors will decide in the next few weeks what sentence they will recommend in the case to Senior Judge Pat Priest.
DeLay chose Priest to sentence him rather than the jury. He faces five years to life in prison on the money laundering charge and two to 20 years on the conspiracy charge. He also would be eligible for probation.