AUSTIN (AP) – The 2003 congressional redistricting fight in Texas was expected to be one of the last things prosecutors focused on in the Tom DeLay money laundering trial before wrapping up their case against the former U.S. House majority leader.
DeLay is accused of using his political action committee to illegally funnel $190,000 in corporate funds into Texas legislative races in 2002. Prosecutors claim the redistricting effort was the primary motive for the alleged scheme.
Prosecutors allege the $190,000 helped Republicans take control of the Texas House in 2002. That majority allowed the GOP to push through a Delay-engineered congressional redistricting plan that sent more Texas Republicans to Congress in 2004, and strengthened DeLay’s political power, prosecutors said.
Senior Judge Pat Priest said he is allowing testimony that puts the redistricting effort into historical context but doesn’t comment on the politics behind it. One to two were to testify on Tuesday about the effort.
“I don’t want to hear one word about whether … that was good or bad. That’s for the jury to decide,” said Priest, who has admonished both prosecutors and defense attorneys about bringing politics into the trial.
Prosecutors said they hoped to rest their case on Tuesday. The trial is in its third week.
DeLay and two associates — John Colyandro and Jim Ellis — are accused of illegally channeling $190,000 in corporate donations collected by DeLay’s PAC in Texas through an arm of the Washington-based Republican National Committee, or RNC. The money went to seven Texas House candidates. Under Texas law, corporate money cannot go directly to political campaigns.
DeLay, who has denied wrongdoing, maintains the money swap was legal, no corporate money went to Texas candidates and he had little involvement in how the PAC was run.
The former Houston-area congressman is charged with money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.
Jay Banning, who was the RNC’s chief financial officer in 2002, testified Monday that none of the seven Texas House candidates received corporate money. But he said they did receive substantially higher donations from the RNC than most other Texas candidates did that year.
The criminal charges in Texas, as well as a separate federal investigation of DeLay’s ties to disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, ended his 22-year political career representing suburban Houston. The Justice Department probe into DeLay’s ties to Abramoff ended without any charges filed against DeLay.
Ellis and Colyandro, who face lesser charges, will be tried later.
DeLay, whose nickname was “the Hammer” for his heavy-handed style, now runs a consulting firm based in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land. In 2009, he appeared on ABC’s hit television show “Dancing With the Stars.”
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