DeLay heads to Texas court in money laundering case, days after DOJ ends probe without charges

By Kelley Shannon, AP
Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Money laundering case against DeLay moving forward

AUSTIN, Texas — Former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay will get his long-awaited trial on a money laundering indictment ahead of two co-defendants, who now face lesser charges, a judge said Tuesday.

Senior Judge Pat Priest has not yet set a trial date and has not ruled on all requests to throw out charges against DeLay and his associates. But he noted at a pre-trial hearing in Austin, Texas, that DeLay has been demanding a trial since his 2005 indictment.

DeLay and his attorney called the decision a victory.

“I’ve been asking for a trial now for five years. Finally I’m getting a trial,” DeLay told reporters outside the courtroom. He said his next goal is to get his trial moved to his home county, conservative Fort Bend in the Houston area, where he says he’s more likely to get a fair jury than in liberal Austin.

Arguments on a change of venue are expected Wednesday.

Prosecutors say they’ll press different charges of election code violations against co-defendants John Colyandro and Jim Ellis — essentially severing their cases from DeLay’s. Priest said he won’t give them a trial before DeLay even though prosecutors were seeking that.

“I don’t think so,” Priest said. “Not when Mr. DeLay has been demanding a trial for five years.”

DeLay and the co-defendants were indicted in 2005 in connection with efforts to fund and elect Republican state legislative candidates in 2002. The three men are accused of illegally funneling $190,000 in corporate money through the Republican National Committee to help elect GOP Texas legislative candidates.

They contend they have done nothing wrong.

DeLay began pressing for an immediate trial in late 2005 to try to save his leadership post in Congress. He resigned in 2006 from the suburban Houston congressional seat in Sugar Land he had held for two decades.

“This is a political maneuver by a rogue district attorney, and I had to leave Congress because of it. And if I’d have gotten my trial speedily like I think I’m entitled to, I may still be in Congress, and I may still be in the leadership in Congress,” DeLay said.

Colyandro and Ellis have been challenging their indictments in appellate courts before trial. Prosecutors also sought pre-trial appellate rulings.

DeLay, 63, arrived smiling at the Travis County criminal courts building Tuesday morning. The former national Republican leader then sat intently listening to hours of tedious legal arguments. During breaks in the court proceeding, he chuckled and chatted casually about his short stint last year on the television show “Dancing With the Stars.”

Throughout the day, defense attorneys argued that the indictments should be thrown out on certain legal points and because of improper conduct by then-Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat.

DeLay’s defense attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said Earle shopped among grand juries seeking quick indictments and didn’t provide grand jurors with all the information they should have been given. Part of Tuesday’s hearing was closed to the public because secret grand jury proceedings were to be discussed.

Ellis’ attorney, Jonathan Pauerstein, said Earle demonstrated “highly inappropriate conduct” by doing magazine interviews and going on television programs such as “60 Minutes” in “self-aggrandizing” fashion to talk about politics.

Prosecutor Holly Taylor argued that Earle did not step out of bounds when he spoke publicly about the case. She said a district attorney is permitted to keep the public informed and warn of a public danger. She said Earle prosecuted Democrats as well as Republicans.

Priest rejected earlier motions by all three defendants to toss out the indictments for an assortment of reasons.

“Generally speaking, the defense is standing in a deep hole with a very short stick on all these issues,” Priest said.

If convicted of the money laundering charge, DeLay could face five to 99 years, or life, in prison. A money laundering conspiracy charge included in that count could carry a prison term of two to 20 years, according to current District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg.

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