Siding with a decision made a year ago by a lower appeals court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday refused to reinstate money-laundering convictions against former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
In an 8-1 decision, the state's highest criminal court backed a Texas 3rd Court of Appeals decision that reversed DeLay's 2011 convictions on money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. The court had ruled there was not enough evidence to prove that DeLay’s actions were criminal.
"We agree with the court of appeals that, as a matter of law, the State failed to prove facts to establish that the appellant committed either the object offense of money laundering or the inchoate offense of conspiracy to commit the same," the criminal appeals court ruled.
The Travis County district attorney’s office accused DeLay of funneling corporate contributions to candidates in key Texas legislative races, in violation of state law that forbids corporate money from state political races. He was convicted of conspiring with two aides, John Colyandro and Jim Ellis, to transfer corporate contributions raised by the former congressman's political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, also known as TRMPAC, through the Republican National Committee.
DeLay was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison but had been free on bail as he appealed the ruling. He has decried his prosecution as the “criminalization of politics.”
“It’s dangerous to our system," DeLay said after his conviction. "Just because somebody disagrees with you — it’s not enough to ruin your reputation,” he said. “They have to put you in jail, bankrupt you, destroy your family."
Court of Criminal Appeals Judges Cheryl Johnson and Cathy Cochran wrote in a concurring opinion that although there was evidence DeLay knew — after the fact — of the transfer of the funds, there was no proof "he was directly involved."
"Like some of Goldman Sachs’s dealings with a Spanish bank, the wheeling and dealing was a tad shady, but legal," they wrote.
Judge Lawrence Meyers, the lone dissenter, said that the majority opinion "places a burden on the State that is impossible to overcome," because an individual would have to be aware that his or her actions violates the Texas election code.
"In addition to placing this ridiculous burden on the State, which effectively repeals the statute, this holding also allows corporations who simply cannot be bothered to look up the law to get away with making illegal contributions," Meyers said.
The 2005 indictments followed a criminal complaint that the liberal money-in-politics group Texans for Public Justice filed with the Travis County district attorney’s office. In a statement released Wednesday, Craig McDonald, the group’s director, called the ruling disappointing but not surprising.
“This partisan appeals court trumped a non-partisan jury to put one of its own back on the streets,” McDonald said. “Laundering corporate money to steal an election for your party is not a crime — so long as that same party controls the courts.”