AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A judge ordered former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to serve three years in prison Monday for his role in a scheme to illegally funnel corporate money to Texas candidates in 2002.
The sentence comes after a jury in November convicted DeLay on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. DeLay was once one of the most powerful men in U.S. politics, ascending to the No. 2 job in the House of Representatives.
Senior Judge Pat Priest sentenced him to the three-year term on the conspiracy charge. He also sentenced him to five years in prison on the money laundering charge but allowed DeLay to accept 10 years of probation instead of more prison time.
The former Houston-area congressman had faced up to life in prison. His attorneys asked for probation.
Senior Judge Pat Priest issued his ruling after a brief sentencing hearing on Monday in which former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert testified on DeLay's behalf.
Prosecutors attempted to present only one witness at the hearing, Peter Cloeren, a Southeast Texas businessman who claimed DeLay had urged him in 1996 to evade campaign finance laws in a separate case. Prosecutors said the case was similar to the one DeLay was being sentenced for.
But not long after Cloeren began testifying, Senior Judge Pat Priest declined to hear the testimony, saying prosecutors couldn't prove the businessman's claims beyond a reasonable doubt.
"You lose. I will not hear this testimony," Priest said after agreeing with DeLay's attorneys, who objected to the testimony, saying the former lawmaker was not criminally charged in the case. Cloeren pleaded guilty to directing illegal corporate money into the 1996 congressional campaign of an East Texas candidate.
DeLay's attorneys had indicated they would have up to nine witnesses but decided to present only Hastert.
Hastert, an Illinois Republican who was House speaker from 1999 to 2006, testified that DeLay was not motivated by power but for a need to help others.