AUSTIN, Texas -- Former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom
DeLay, once considered among the nation's most powerful and feared
lawmakers, was sentenced to three years in prison Monday for a
scheme to influence elections that already cost him his job,
leadership post and millions of dollars in legal fees.

The sentence comes after a jury in November convicted DeLay, a
Houston-area Republican, on charges of money laundering and
conspiracy to commit money laundering for using a political action
committee to illegally send corporate donations to Texas House
candidates in 2002.

Prosecutors said DeLay will likely be free for months or even
years as his appeal makes it through the Texas court system.

Before being sentenced, DeLay repeated his longstanding claims
that he did nothing wrong, the prosecution was politically
motivated and that he never intended to break the law. DeLay was
convicted in Travis County, one of the most Democratic counties in
Texas, which is one of the most Republican states in the country.

I can't be remorseful for something I don't think I did,
DeLay said in a 10-minute speech to the judge.

DeLay told Senior Judge Pat Priest the selective prosecution
he's gone through has deeply affected his wife's health, forced him
to raise and spend $10 million in legal fees and cost him
everything he has worked for -- including the second-highest post in
the U.S. House.

This criminalization of politics is very dangerous. It's
dangerous to our system. Just because somebody disagrees with you
they got to put you in jail, bankrupt you, destroy your family,
he said.

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 serve 10 years of probation
instead of more prison time.

I do not agree that the Travis County District Attorney's
Office has picked on Tom DeLay to persecute, Priest said.

DeLay was briefly taken into custody, but Priest granted a
request from his attorneys that he be released on a $10,000 bond
pending appeal. About three hours after he was sentenced, DeLay
posted bond and walked out of the county jail without talking to

DeLay's attorney Dick DeGuerin said he expected the conviction
would be overturned.

If I told you what I thought, I'd get sued, DeGuerin said.
This will not stand.

The former congressman had faced up to life in prison. His
attorneys asked for probation.

What we feel is that justice was served, lead prosecutor
Gary Cobb said.

During his closing argument, Cobb told Priest that if DeLay
received only probation, the ex-lawmaker would use such a sentence
to make himself a martyr for his political beliefs and that he
would wear probation like Jesus on the cross.

He put his principles, ideals and beliefs above the laws of
Texas, Cobb said.

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. DeLay's
attorneys 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. Hastert talked about DeLay's conservative and
religious values, his efforts to provide tax relief for his
constituents in Texas, his work helping foster children and the
help he provided to the family of one of the police officers who
was 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, Hastert said.

DeLay's lawyers had also submitted more than 30 character and
support letters from friends and political leaders, including
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and eight current U.S.
congressmen. Most of the letters ask for leniency in the

After a month-long trial in November, a jury determined that he
conspired with two associates to use his Texas-based political
action committee to send $190,000 in corporate money to an arm of
the Washington-based Republican National Committee. The RNC then
sent the same amount to seven Texas House candidates. Under Texas
law, corporate money can't go directly to political campaigns.

Prosecutors claim the money helped Republicans take control of
the Texas House. That enabled the Republican majority to push
through a Delay-engineered congressional redistricting plan that
sent more Texas Republicans to Congress in 2004, strengthening
DeLay's political power.

DeLay contended the charges were politically motivated and the
money swap in question was legal. DeGuerin says DeLay committed no
crime and believes the convictions will be overturned on appeal.

Read or Share this story: