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Ex-House Leader DeLay’s Money Laundering Verdicts Tossed

Ex-House Leader Tom DeLay
Former Replublican Congressman Tom DeLay of Texas. Photographer: Ben Sklar/Bloomberg

Tom DeLay, the former Republican congressman from Texas and one of the most powerful leaders of the U.S. House in modern times, won a reversal of his conviction for money laundering from a state appeals court in Austin.

The evidence against DeLay, who was convicted of mishandling campaign funds in a 2002 election, was insufficient to support the guilty verdict, State Appellate Justice Melissa Godwin said today in a split decision by a three-judge panel of the Texas criminal appellate court.

“This is an outrageous criminalization of politics and I’m so glad they wrote the ruling” the way they did, DeLay said today in the Capitol in Washington.

Delay said he had been praying at a nearby location known as the “C Street house” used by religious Republican lawmakers when he received word of the appeals court decision. He added that he raised and spent more than $12 million on legal fees.

DeLay, 66, from the Houston suburb of Sugar Land, was convicted in 2010 of money laundering tied to campaign-finance laws that require corporate and individual donations to be kept separate and used only for approved purposes.

DeLay, a former exterminator whose political nickname was The Hammer, stepped down as house majority leader when he was indicted in 2005. He dropped his re-election bid and resigned from Congress after winning his party’s primary in 2006.

The Travis County District Attorney’s office, which prosecuted DeLay, said in a statement it will ask the full Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to review the decision.

Corporate Donations

Political opponents accused DeLay of illegally routing corporate donations to candidates for the Texas Legislature in an effort to stack the chamber with Republicans who would draw new boundaries for U.S. congressional districts.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said in a statement that “during his time in Congress, no one did more to undermine federal and state campaign finance laws than Tom DeLay.”

“It is a sad day for all Americans when Tom DeLay -- one of the most corrupt politicians to ever walk the halls of the Capitol -- once again slithers away,” Sloan said.

Dick DeGuerin, DeLay’s trial attorney, said in reaction to the ruling that “someone finally listened to what we’ve been saying all along. All the transactions were legal, and you can’t add up a bunch of legal transactions to get an unlawful one.”

DeLay has been working on “conservative grassroots issues” and lobbying politicians from his office in Washington while his case was on appeal, DeGuerin said in an interview.

In September 2009, the ex-congressman appeared as a contestant on the ABC reality show “Dancing With the Stars.”

‘Political Career’

“Even though we won, eight years after we said this wasn’t a crime, this destroyed Tom’s political career and his future. How does he ever get his reputation back?” DeGuerin said.

DeLay was sentenced to three years in prison, which the trial judge reduced to 10 years of community supervision.

On reviewing DeLay’s convictions, the appeals court said Texas failed to prove the campaign contributions he directed to specific candidates were illegally obtained, as required under money-laundering statutes.

Jurors were confused by that point during DeLay’s trial, Godwin said in the ruling, and they twice asked the judge for clarification on the law. The judge refused to provide further guidance, she said.

“The jury should not have been placed in the uncomfortable position of trying to decide what the law is, which is not their job,” Godwin said in the ruling. The jurors’ questions “point to the lack of evidence showing that the funds involved in the transaction were the proceeds of criminal activity.”

The case is DeLay v. Texas, 03-11-00087, Texas Court of Appeals, Third District (Austin).

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