AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — An attorney for former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay told an appeals court Wednesday that the onetime GOP heavyweight's efforts to influence Texas elections may have been distasteful but weren't illegal.
DeLay, 65, was found guilty in November 2010 of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He was sentenced to three years in prison, but that was put on hold while his case was appealed.
A prosecutor with the Travis County District Attorney's Office told the 3rd Court of Appeals Wednesday that the former Houston-area congressman did violate Texas law when his political action committee funneled corporate donations to Texas candidates in 2002. Under state law, corporate money cannot be given directly to political campaigns.
Attorneys for both sides spent about an hour presenting their arguments to a three-judge panel of the appeals court. The court will issue a ruling at a later date.
DeLay, who once held the No. 2 job in the House of Representatives, did not attend the hearing.
The road to the appeals court has been long and filled with various interruptions, including some of the appeals court justices recusing themselves. Also, DeLay successfully had a judge on the panel removed because of anti-Republican comments she made.
DeLay has maintained his prosecution was politically motivated by Ronnie Earle, the now-retired Democratic Travis County district attorney in Austin.
"The bottom line is Tom didn't do anything against the law. This was a political prosecution. It still is," Dick DeGuerin, DeLay's trial attorney, said after the hearing.
Prosecutors have said DeLay's case was not politically motivated and he received a fair trial
On Wednesday, the crux of DeLay's argument rested on what could be seen as a legal technicality: that the once-powerful ex-lawmaker did not commit money laundering because state law didn't apply to funds the former congressman was tied to since they were in the form of a check.
Jurors in Austin determined DeLay conspired with two associates, John Colyandro and Jim Ellis, to use his Texas-based political action committee to funnel a check for $190,000 in corporate money through an arm of the Washington-based Republican National Committee. The RNC then sent the same amount to seven Texas House candidates.