October 15, 2005
Dueling over documentation

Well, this sort of thing is never good for prosecutors: The Travis County DA's office has said that they do not have a list of Texas candidates who received money alleged to have been laundered through the Republican National Committee, even though it was cited in the indictments that were handed down.

Indictments against DeLay, Jim Ellis and John Colyandro state that Ellis gave "a document that contained the names of several candidates for the Texas House" to a Republican National Committee official in 2002 in a scheme to swap $190,000 in restricted corporate money for the same amount of money from individuals that could be legally used by Texas candidates.

But prosecutors said Friday in court that they only had a "similar" list and not the one allegedly received by then-RNC Deputy Director Terry Nelson. Late in the day, they released a list of 17 Republican candidates, but only seven are alleged to have received money in the scheme.

A lawyer for Ellis said prosecutors' inability to produce the list mentioned in the indictments is on par with the tactics used by U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the communist witch hunts of the 1950s.

"I'll tell you what I think about this list. In the 1950s, a man named McCarthy claimed to have a list of 200 communists in the State Department, and he didn't," said J.D. Pauerstein, a lawyer for Jim Ellis, the director of DeLay's Americans for a Republican Majority. "They (prosecutors) don't know what list they're talking about, even though they specify it in their indictment."

Without the exact list, the prosecutors' case against DeLay, Ellis and Colyandro likely turns on Nelson's testimony. Nelson testified at least twice to grand juries hearing the case.

"That would be something Mr. Nelson could testify to, and the jury could weigh the testimony and decide whether to accept it or whether he's confused about what list he saw three or four years ago in the midst of a heated election cycle," Pauerstein said.

Lawyers for Ellis and Colyandro demanded a copy of the list from Travis County prosecutors during the court hearing Friday. But Assistant District Attorney Rick Reed told state District Judge Bob Perkins that the list prosecutors wanted to provide the defense was not the one mentioned in the indictment.

Reed said prosecutors had a list of candidates from the business papers of the DeLay-founded Texans for a Republican Majority, TRMPAC, that they believe was a precursor to the one given to Nelson.

"Despite the fact that the state cannot conclusively prove that the said document is a duplicate (or copy thereof)" of the document given to Nelson, the "state believes that the document is at least factually related" to the document mentioned in the indictment, Reed said in a court brief filed after the hearing.

The list released by prosecutors contained the names of 17 Republican state House candidates from 2002. Nine of the candidates had dollar amounts listed next to their names totaling $230,000.


"It's just hard to believe this (list) is central to their indictment," said Colyandro attorney Joe Turner. "They've had this grand jury investigation for over three years now, and they don't have a list, and now they've come up with a document that they say is similar to the list."

More from the Statesman:

In court, prosecutors provided a list but declined to promise it was the same list cited in the conspiracy indictments. They suggested that the list, which included the names of 17 Texas candidates, might have been a precursor to the final list given to the committee.

Two Austin candidates, Jack Stick and Todd Baxter, received money from the committee, as did Rick Green of Dripping Springs.

Ellis' lawyer, J.D. Pauerstein of San Antonio, said there might never have been a list.

"In the 1950s, a man named (Joe) McCarthy claimed to have a list of 200 communists in the State Department," Pauerstein said. "And he didn't."

Pauerstein's rhetoric matched the tone of recent attacks that Republicans and their allies are aiming at Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, including a television commercial comparing Earle to an attack dog.

If prosecutors cannot produce the list, Pauerstein said, it would not invalidate the indictment but undercut the credibility of the prosecutors.

Logically, some sort of list must have existed. I mean, there was money distributed, and one presumes it was not done in a random fashion; someone somewhere prioritized who was to get what. I suspect what's key about this isn't so much the names of the recipients but the names of the people who compiled the list, and the names of the people to whom the list was shown prior to that money being disbursed. Without it, you've got your suppositions about who knew what and when they knew it, but unless you've got some damning testimony (tell me again what Warren RoBold is up to these days?), you may not have proof. Which would suck.

Also from the Statesman, another bogus attempt to explain what happened to the disputed TRMPAC cash:

DeLay said the committee sent the $190,000 to Washington because it had surplus funds.

Pauerstein, Ellis' attorney, echoed that contention Friday.

"We needed to do something" with the money, he said. "The campaigns were winding down. You don't raise political money and just sit on it."

Austin lawyer Cris Feldman, who won a civil ruling against Texans for a Republican Majority earlier this year, disagreed.

Feldman cited e-mails from DeLay's fundraiser, Warren Robold, who was still trying to raise donations, including corporate money, even as Election Day approached.

"TRMPAC was rasing corporate money hand over fist right up to the election," he said. "The evidence is very clear."

First of all, if that money was sent to DC because it wasn't needed in Texas, then what was the purpose of that $190K that came back from the RNC? And second, lest we forget, 2002 was the year the Republicans took over the State House, giving them complete control of the Texas government for the first time ever. In that environment, there was no such thing as surplus cash. They were playing to win, and that meant they used every resource they had available. Try again, Tom.

Meanwhile, from the Morning News, former TRMPAC treasurer Bill Ceverha has joined the hordes who are taking advantage of the soon-to-be-gone bankruptcy laws.

Dallas businessman Bill Ceverha filed for personal bankruptcy this week under the weight of lawsuits that accuse him of wrongdoing in his role as treasurer of the Tom DeLay-sponsored Texans for a Republican Majority.

Rep. Delay, the former U.S. House majority leader, and three of his lieutenants continue to fight a flurry of criminal charges stemming from how the political action committee used corporate money during the 2002 statehouse elections.

But Mr. Ceverha was the lone defendant in a lawsuit lost by TRMPAC earlier this year.

A state district judge found that TRMPAC improperly raised and spent $600,000 in corporate contributions to help GOP candidates in Texas House elections. The suit was brought by three Democrats who lost in those elections, and the court ordered Mr. Ceverha to pay $196,000 in damages.

With attorney fees, that award could cost more than $1 million. A similar suit is pending.

"I've already been messing with this for almost three years," Mr. Ceverha said Friday. "There was no end in sight unless I took this action."


Mr. Colyandro and Mr. Ellis were defendants in the civil cases as well, but were stripped from those proceedings because their criminal charges on similar facts took precedence. That left Mr. Ceverha alone to defend TRMPAC.

David Richards, an attorney who helped win the suit against TRMPAC, said the bankruptcy freezes the case. He and others have not been paid their attorney fees.

"They raised a lot of money to defend the case," Mr. Richards said. "I can't believe the people who got him into this would drop him in the grease. He's been such a stalwart guy for them."

I can believe it. The phrase "there's no honor among thieves" would seem to apply here. Don't sit by the phone, Bill, it's not going to ring for you.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 15, 2005 to Scandalized! | TrackBack