DeLay money laundering trial gets underway
AUSTIN - Tom DeLay took part in a scheme to illegally channel corporate money into Texas legislative races to strengthen his power and influence, prosecutors said Monday in opening statements of the former House majority leader's money laundering trial.
DeLay's attorneys countered that no corporate money was given to Texas candidates and that the only thing the once powerful but polarizing congressman is guilty of is being a good politician.
Travis County prosecutor Beverly Mathews said DeLay (R) and two associates - Jim Ellis and John Colyandro - illegally funneled $190,000 in corporate money, which had been collected by a group DeLay started, through the Washington-based Republican National Committee to help elect GOP state legislative candidates in 2002. Under Texas law, corporate money cannot be directly used for political campaigns.
"The evidence will show you they took the corporate money they knew could not be given and came up with a scheme where that dirty money could be turned clean and given to candidates," Mathews said.
DeLay, who has long denied wrongdoing, is charged with money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. If convicted, he could face a life sentence.
Mathews told jurors the $190,000 that was collected by DeLay's Texas political action committee was exchanged for the same amount through the RNC and given to seven Texas candidates. She said the money swap was supervised by DeLay.
Mathews said the Republicans won a majority in the Texas House because of DeLay's scheme, meaning they could then push through a congressional redistricting plan engineered by DeLay that would send more Texas Republicans to Congress. Republicans won a majority in the Texas House in 2002 and congressional redistricting sent more Texas Republicans to Congress in 2004.
"There is nothing wrong with Republicans trying to dominate the political world," Mathews said. "But the means to achieve that gain must be lawful."
During his opening statement, DeLay's lead attorney repeatedly told jurors that no corporate money was given to Texas candidates.
Dick DeGuerin acknowledged that DeLay's PAC sent $190,000 in corporate money to an arm of the RNC and that the panel used money collected from individual donations to send $190,000 to seven Texas GOP candidates. "It's not the same money. No money was laundered," DeGuerin said.
DeGuerin said that DeLay, who did not make decisions for his PAC, lawfully raised money and promoted the interests of the GOP.
"He did it so successfully that there was a lot of anger. You cannot convict Tom DeLay because he was a better politician than the other side was," DeGuerin said.
DeLay was upbeat as he entered the Austin courtroom.
"The prosecution doesn't have a case. How can I not feel confident?" said DeLay, accompanied by wife Christine.
- Associated Press