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AUSTIN, Texas -- Tom DeLay took part in a scheme to
illegally channel corporate money into Texas legislative races in
order to strengthen his power and influence, prosecutors said
Monday in opening statements of the former U.S. House majority
leader's money laundering trial.

DeLay's attorneys countered that no corporate money was given to
Texas candidates and that the only thing the once-powerful but
polarizing ex-lawmaker is guilty of is being a good politician.

Travis County prosecutor Beverly Mathews said DeLay and two
associates -- Jim Ellis and John Colyandro -- illegally funneled
$190,000 in corporate money, which had been collected by a group
DeLay started, through the Washington-based Republican National
Committee to help elect GOP state legislative candidates in 2002.
Under Texas law, corporate money cannot be directly used for
political campaigns.

The evidence will show you they took the corporate money they
knew could not be given and came up with a scheme where that dirty
money could be turned clean and given to candidates, Mathews
said.

DeLay, who has long denied any wrongdoing, is charged with money
laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. If convicted,
he could face up to life in prison.

Mathews told jurors the $190,000 that was collected by DeLay's
Texas political action committee was exchanged for the same amount
through the Republican National Committee and ultimately given to
seven Texas candidates. She said the money swap was supervised and
facilitated by DeLay.

Mathews said the Republicans won a majority in the Texas House
as a result of DeLay's scheme, meaning they could then push through
a congressional redistricting plan engineered by DeLay that would
send more Texas Republicans to Congress. Republicans won a majority
in the Texas House in 2002 and congressional redistricting sent
more Texas Republican to Congress in 2004.

There is nothing wrong with Republicans trying to dominate the
political world, Mathews said. But the means to achieve that
gain must be lawful.

During his opening statement, DeLay's lead attorney repeatedly
told jurors that no corporate money was ever given to Texas
candidates.

Dick DeGuerin acknowledged DeLay's political action committee
sent $190,000 in corporate money to an arm of the Republican
National Committee and that the national committee used money
collected from individual donations to send $190,000 to seven Texas
GOP candidates.

It's not the same money. No money was laundered, DeGuerin
said. As DeGuerin spoke to jurors, a television screen next to him
displayed the words: No corporate money went to candidates in
Texas.

DeGuerin said DeLay, who didn't make decisions for his political
action committee, lawfully raised money and promoted the interests
of the GOP.

He did it so successfully that there was a lot of anger. You
cannot convict Tom DeLay because he was a better politician than
the other side was. That's not a crime, DeGuerin said.

Before opening statements, DeLay was upbeat as he entered the
Austin courtroom.

The prosecution doesn't have a case. How can I not feel
confident? said DeLay, standing next to his wife, Christine.

The first two witnesses, Craig McDonald, the director of Texans
for Public Justice, a liberal watchdog group, and Fred Lewis, an
Austin-based independent political watchdog, testified that they
filed complaints with the Travis County District Attorney's Office,
asking it to investigate DeLay's political action committee, which
they suspected of using corporate money for political candidates.

DeGuerin tried to portray McDonald and Lewis as individuals
biased against Republicans. Both men denied that.

Testimony was to resume Tuesday with George Ceverha, the
ex-treasurer of DeLay's Texas-based political action committee.

DeLay has been pressing for a trial since he was indicted five
years ago, but the case was slowed by appeals of pretrial rulings,
including his attorneys' attempt to move the trial out of Austin --
the most Democratic city in one of the most Republican states.

DeLay and DeGuerin have said the charges are politically
motivated by former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle,
who brought the original case but has since retired. Earle is a
Democrat. Prosecutors deny the charges are politically motivated.

DeLay's defense team also worried about the trial being held in
liberal Austin and its timing, with testimony beginning a day
before the contentious midterm elections. Jurors were selected last
week, and the trial is expected to last three weeks.

DeLay was once one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress,
earning the nickname the Hammer for his heavy-handed style.

The criminal charges in Texas, as well as a separate federal
investigation of his ties to disgraced former lobbyist Jack
Abramoff, forced DeLay to step down as majority leader and
eventually to resign after representing suburban Houston for 22
years. The Justice Department ended its federal investigation into
DeLay's ties to Abramoff without filing any charges against DeLay.

Ellis and Colyandro, who face lesser charges, will be tried
later. A previous charge alleging they and DeLay had engaged in a
conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws was dismissed.

DeLay has been mostly out of public view since resigning from
Congress, except for an appearance on ABC's hit television show
Dancing With the Stars. He now runs a consulting firm based in
the Houston suburb of Sugar Land.

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