Prosecutors say DeLay gave blessing to scheme

By JUAN A. LOZANO Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas — Prosecutors tell jurors in the closing arguments of Tom DeLay's money laundering trial the former U.S. House majority leader gave his blessing to a scheme to illegally funnel corporate money to Texas legislative candidates.

Prosecutor Beverly Mathews told jurors Monday in Austin that the former Republican lawmaker encouraged two associates to come up with a scheme to illegally channel $190,000 in corporate donations into 2002 Texas legislative races.

DeLay denies wrongdoing. He and his attorneys say no corporate money went to Texas candidates and the money swap was legal. Defense attorneys were to follow prosecutors with closing arguments.

The once powerful but polarizing Houston-area congressman faces up to life in prison if convicted.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Prosecutors and defense attorneys prepared their final pitches in the money laundering trial of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, and jurors were expected to get the case shortly after Monday's closing arguments.

Prosecutors allege DeLay used his political action committee to illegally channel $190,000 in corporate donations into 2002 Texas legislative races through a money swap.

DeLay, who denies wrongdoing, and his attorneys say no corporate funds went to Texas candidates and the money swap was legal.

"There's no crime and Tom DeLay didn't do anything," said Dick DeGuerin, DeLay's lead attorney.

Lead prosecutor Gary Cobb said despite the circumstantial nature of the case, he will focus his closing argument on the evidence authorities presented at trial "and the jurors' use of common sense to put the circumstantial evidence together."

DeLay, a once powerful but polarizing Houston-area Republican congressman, is charged with money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.

During the trial, which began Nov. 1, prosecutors presented more than 30 witnesses and volumes of e-mails and other documents in their efforts to portray DeLay as the driving force behind his Texas-based PAC. In contrast, only five witnesses took the stand in DeLay's defense.

Prosecutors say DeLay conspired with two associates, John Colyandro and Jim Ellis, to create a scheme that sent $190,000 in corporate donations to an arm of the Washington-based Republican National Committee, or RNC. Under Texas law, corporate donations can't go directly to political campaigns,

The money was exchanged for the same amount from individual donations, which can be used in Texas campaigns, and sent to seven Texas House candidates, prosecutors say.

Prosecutors allege the money helped Republicans take control of the Texas House. That enabled the GOP majority to push through a Delay-engineered congressional redistricting plan that sent more Texas Republicans to Congress in 2004 — and strengthened DeLay's political power.

The strongest evidence by authorities was an audio interview played for jurors in which DeLay said he knew beforehand about the money swap. DeLay says he misspoke in the interview with prosecutors in 2005, just before his indictment.

Prosecutors also presented e-mails and financial records showing that through the money swap, the seven Texas candidates got more donations from the RNC than all other state legislative candidates around the U.S., and in the weeks leading up to the 2002 elections, the PAC had problems raising money from individual donors.

DeLay's attorneys presented three current and former RNC officials who testified the money swap was a common transaction and had been done by political parties for years.

Two former DeLay staff members testified DeLay would have been too busy to be at a meeting in September 2002 when prosecutors suggest the ex-lawmaker could have been told about the money swap before its approval.

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, 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."