Tom DeLay, former U.S. House leader, sentenced to 3 years in prison
Monday, January 10, 2011; 8:45 PM
AUSTIN - Former House majority leader Tom DeLay, the brash Texan who helped build and tightly control a Republican majority in his chamber until resigning in 2005, was sentenced by a state judge on Monday to three years in prison for illegally plotting to funnel corporate contributions to Texas legislative candidates.
State Senior Judge Pat Priest, citing the need for those who write the laws to "be bound by them," rejected DeLay's impassioned argument that he was the victim of political persecution and was improperly accused of breaking the law for doing what "everybody was doing."
Priest said he agreed with a jury's verdict in November that DeLay had committed a felony by conspiring to launder corporate money into the state election, and ordered bailiffs to take DeLay - wearing a navy blue suit and his trademark American-flag lapel pin - to jail immediately. But he was released when DeLay's attorneys quickly posted a $10,000 bond.
Priest also sentenced DeLay to five years in prison on a separate felony conviction of money laundering, but agreed to let him serve 10 years of community service instead of jail time for that charge. Priest acknowledged that DeLay - who said he had already raised and spent $10 million on his defense - would appeal the verdict to higher courts.
But he rejected DeLay's contention that the prosecution's novel use of a money-laundering statute - meant to target bank robbers, drug dealers and criminal fraud - was unjust.
Its use was justified, Priest said, because the crime for which DeLay was convicted was itself novel. DeLay was accused of approving the transfer of $190,000 in corporate funds to the Republican National Committee's coffers in Washington and a return of the same amount in checks to state candidates.
A prison term represents a substantial fall from grace for DeLay, who from 2002 to 2005 was effectively the third most powerful politician in Washington and the gatekeeper for all House legislation. As House majority leader, he became notorious for pursuing the interests of his party and its donors so aggressively and successfully that he earned a nickname as "The Hammer."
DeLay also probably made as many enemies as he did friends, causing some party colleagues - such as current House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) - to openly shun any mimicry of his rigid, demanding style. One of DeLay's most controversial efforts, known as his "K Street Project," involved pressuring trade associations to donate only to Republicans, despite their stated preference to give to both parties.
Some analysts have said the ethics cloud that surrounded DeLay contributed to the Democrats' capture of the House in 2006.
Priest delivered his sentence immediately after hearing from prosecutors and the defense Monday.
DeLay and his lead attorney, Richard DeGuerin, asked for a sentence of probation and community service, but they may have undercut their plea by declining to show any contrition, a factor that normally weighs in a judge's sentencing deliberations.
"I can't be remorseful for something I don't think I did," said DeLay, who had been silent in front of the jury even while he insisted on his innocence during numerous press conferences outside the courtroom.