December 12, 2005
Earle's task

The Chron reviews Judge Pat Priest's ruling on the DeLay indictments from last week and gets an analysis of what the prosecution's burden will be from civil attorney Cris Feldman, who was the lead counsel in the successful lawsuit against TRMPAC treasurer Bill Ceverha.

Priest upheld charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering against DeLay, Jim Ellis and John Colyandro by describing how financial exchanges between political committees can constitute money laundering under Texas law.

Priest said money laundering would have occurred if swaps were done to get around the state's ban on corporate funds being used. But he also said Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle will have to show the men violated the law by acting with "express intent;" in other words, knowingly and intentionally doing it.


Priest's order upholding the indictment said money laundering can be proven two ways:

Point one: If the corporate money was raised "with the express intent of converting those funds to the use of individual candidates."

DeGuerin said there is no way for Earle to prove this point.

"Nobody has said that was the purpose of taking the money, either (the people) soliciting the money or the corporations contributing the money," said DeGuerin.

DeGuerin said TRMPAC, to comply with Texas law, kept separate bank accounts for corporate donations and money from individuals.

Feldman said TRMPAC's mission statement to elect a Republican majority to the Texas House and other pieces of evidence he submitted at the civil trial showed committee officials planned from the time the PAC was formed in 2001 to use the corporate money for political purposes.

A TRMPAC appeal to corporate donors indicated committee officials planned to use the money for more than just paying rent or utility bills.

"Unlike other organizations, your corporate contribution to TRMPAC will be put to productive use," the document said. "Rather than just paying for overhead, your support will fund a series of productive and innovative activities designed to increase our engagement in the political arena."


Point Two: Even if the money was legally raised and then the defendants "entered into an agreement to convert the monies already on hand" for use by candidates in a swap with the RNC, "then (prosecutors) will have established that money was laundered."

The indictment alleges that Ellis gave a $190,000 check to then-RNC Deputy Director Terry Nelson along with a list of candidates who should receive donations "in exchange" for the money.

"I don't think there was an agreement," DeGuerin said. "State committees on both sides of the aisle send money to the national committees. The national committees then have the responsibility of keeping the money they get separate, corporate money and individual money."

Prosecutors have admitted in court that they do not have a copy of the list Ellis supposedly gave Nelson. Nelson, who testified to the grand jury, has referred questions to the RNC, which has declined comment. DeGuerin said even if someone from TRMPAC suggested to Nelson the names of Texans worthy of RNC support, it would not prove money laundering occurred.

"RNSEC doesn't know for sure who needs the money or who is a viable candidate, so they're going to get their list from somewhere, they're going to get suggestions from somewhere," DeGuerin said. "But as far as a list given to Nelson, apparently it doesn't exist."

Feldman said TRMPAC e-mails show Colyandro had a check cut for Ellis on the same day Ellis was meeting with an RNC official about the donation. He said the RNSEC checks to the seven Texas candidates totaling $190,000 were printed on Oct. 4, 2002, and were in sequential order.

If point one comes down to what constitutes "administrative and overhead" expenses, then I like the prosecution's chances. The "Rather than just paying for overhead" mailer speaks for itself. It shouldn't be hard to convince a juror that overhead means the normal costs of running an office, i.e., rent, phone, utilities. Maybe hiring a secretary would be overhead, but hiring pollsters and fundraisers? Not so much.

Point two is murkier, and seems to me to hang on a lot of coincidence. This one may come down to who's more believable, the prosecutors who insist that such coincidences are too convenient to be accepted at face value, or the defendants who say they were just doing normal campaign activities. If the jurors have a hard time swallowing defense claims about what overhead is, that may work against them here. On the other hand, coincidence is not beyond a reasonable doubt. There may not be enough here for the jury to take the affirmative step of voting guilty. Should make for some interesting testimony, though.

Elsewhere in DeLay news, we have a reminder that the Abramoff net is tightening, and there's also a Duke Cunningham connection to watch out for. Finally, there's yet another story about voter discontent in CD22 (link via The Stakeholder). With the trial set for January, all this is likely to remain in the news cycle through the holidays. Poor Tom.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 12, 2005 to Scandalized! | TrackBack

If DeLay and TRMPAC go down, it'll be because they were either too stupid or too lazy to bolster their "coincidence" defense. Wouldn't you think if you'd been Colyandro (and you were indeed using the RNC to launder money), you'd have sent the RNC an even $200K, rather than the exact $190K you were expecting them to donate to the candidates, so at least the amounts wouldn't just "coincidentally" be exactly the same odd number? Or even better, send $100K before the donations and another $100K after?

The way they did it sticks out like a sore thumb. Still, the defendants may be working for a series of hung juries, rather than an outright acquittal. Unless the prosecution can find a "Downing Street memo," it may well be hard for them to find 12 jurors all of whom will agree that the "reasonable doubt" threshold was crossed.

Posted by: Mathwiz on December 12, 2005 1:01 PM