Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, known to his colleagues as “the Hammer,” was sentenced Monday to three years in prison after his November conviction on money laundering and conspiracy charges in the illegal funneling of corporate cash to Texas political candidates in 2002.
Once one of the most powerful and feared Republicans in Congress, DeLay was sentenced by Senior Judge Pat Priest to the three-year term on the conspiracy charge and was given five years on the money-laundering conviction, but was allowed to accept 10 years’ probation in lieu of the added prison time.
The former congressman, first elected to Texas’ 22nd Congressional District in the Houston area in 1984, had faced up to 99 years, or life, in prison.
Judge Priest handed down his decision after a brief sentencing hearing, during which DeLay again said he was the victim of a politically motivated prosecution and he never intended to break the law.
“I can’t be remorseful for something I don’t think I did,” DeLay said.
DeLay was immediately taken into custody after the sentence was read, but Judge Priest granted a request from defense attorneys and ordered him released on a $10,000 bond pending appeal. Prosecutors said the ruling meant DeLay could be free for months, even years, as the appeal moves through the courts.
DeLay’s attorney, Dick DeGuerin, told reporters he thought the conviction would be overturned, adding, “If I told you what I thought, I’d get sued. This will not stand.”
Outside the courthouse, DeLay told reporters, “This is an abuse of power. It’s a miscarriage of justice, and I still maintain that I am innocent. The criminalization of politics undermines our very system, and I’m very disappointed in the outcome.”
Former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert had testified during the hearing on DeLay’s behalf. The Illinois Republican told the judge that DeLay was not motivated by power, but by a need to help others. He pointed to DeLay’s conservative and religious values, his work helping foster children and the help he provided to the family of one of the Capitol Police officers killed in a 1998 shooting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
“That’s the real Tom DeLay that a lot of people never got to see,” Mr. Hastert said.
But the lead prosecutor in the case, Assistant Travis County, Texas, District Attorney Gary Cobb, asked Mr. Hastert if those religious and conservative values meant that DeLay was taking responsibility for doing wrong or whether the former lawmaker had expressed any remorse about the crimes. Mr. Hastert acknowledged that DeLay had not.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) Executive Director Melanie Sloan called the sentencing a “positive development.”
“At long last, one of the most corrupt members ever to walk the halls of Congress may finally be heading to prison, where he belongs,” she said. “Mr. DeLay spent years turning the House of Representatives into his personal casino, and selling our government to the highest bidder. Thankfully, the law has finally caught up with him.”
J. Gerald Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center, said the sentencing was “a resounding victory for those who want to see public officials held accountable for their misdeeds.” He said the DeLay conviction and sentencing proved he was not a victim of the “criminalization of politics” as he claimed in August, when the Justice Department ended its six-year investigation.
“We may never know why DOJs Public Integrity section backed away from its investigations of DeLay and a number of other scandal-ridden members of Congress, but todays sentence hammers home the point that the former majority leader abused his office and broke the law, and that he will be punished as a result,” he said.
Mr. Hebert said the vigor with which the Travis County District Attorneys Office pursued the case stood in “sharp contrast” to Justice Department efforts, “where public official after public official (including DeLay himself) have been given a ‘get out of jail free card from the Criminal Divisions Office of Public Integrity.
In August, the Justice Department ended its DeLay investigation, saying no charges would be filed. The department’s Office of Public Integrity has declined to comment on the case. The DeLay inquiry was part of the department’s probe of Washington superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was convicted along with 20 others.
Out of the public limelight for the past three years except for an appearance on TV’s “Dancing With the Stars” last year, DeLay was convicted Nov. 24 in Judge Priest’s courtroom on two charges related to the illegal funneling of $190,000 in corporate donations to Texas legislative races.
Judge Priest had wide discretion in handing down the sentence under Texas law. DeLay, who earned the nickname “the Hammer” for his style as Republican whip, had faced sentences of two years to 20 years for conspiracy to commit money laundering and five years to 99 years for money laundering.
Texas banned corporations from donating to candidates directly or indirectly in 1903.
A Texas grand jury indicted DeLay and two political associates in November 2005, forcing the House’s second-ranking Republican and its most assertive member to step down from his leadership post.
DeLay, the first House leader to be indicted while in office in at least a century, denied any wrongdoing and accused the Democratic district attorney of Travis County, Texas, Ronnie Earle, of pursuing the case for political motives. Mr. Earle retired after securing the indictment from a grand jury in 2005.
According to the indictment, DeLay conspired to make a political contribution in violation of Texas state law. The indictment said DeLay’s Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee (TRMPAC) accepted $155,000 from companies, placed the money into an account and then wrote a $190,000 check to an arm of the Republican National Committee (RNC), effectively laundering the money to allow its use in state races under Texas law.
That donation, the indictment said, included a document that listed the names of Texas state House candidates and the amounts they were supposed to receive.
Prosecutors said the money helped Republicans in 2002 take control of the Texas House. That majority allowed Republicans to push through a congressional redistricting plan engineered by DeLay that sent more Texas Republicans to Congress in 2004, prosecutors said.
During the trial, DeLay’s attorneys argued that a money swap resulted in seven candidates legally getting donations. They also argued that while DeLay gave his name to the PAC, he had little to do with its operation.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.