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HOUSTON (AP) — The highest criminal court in Texas refused Wednesday to reinstate two money-laundering convictions against former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, ending a nearly decade-long criminal case against the one-time GOP heavyweight.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld a ruling last year from the 3rd Court of Appeals that tossed the Republican's 2010 convictions for money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Travis County prosecutors had argued in June before the Austin-based Court of Criminal Appeals that the convictions be reinstated in what they called a scheme to influence Texas state elections.
"We agree with the court of appeals' ultimate conclusion that, as a matter of law, what the state has proven in this case does not constitute either of the alleged criminal offenses," the high court said in its 8-1 ruling.
DeLay, 67, who had long contended the charges were politically motivated, said he was not angry about his prosecution, which ultimately cost him the No. 2 job in the U.S. House.
"I understand what it's about and it's about ... the criminalization of politics and the misuse of power ... and prosecutorial misconduct," DeLay said Wednesday from his attorney's office in Houston.
Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, whose Austin-based office prosecuted the case, said she strongly disagreed with the appeals court's decision.
"This opinion effectively repeals the Texas statute prohibiting corporate contributions and places a burden on the state that is impossible to overcome," Lehmberg said in a statement. "This decision undermines the fairness and integrity of our elections."
Prosecutors had alleged the former Houston-area congressman accepted $190,000 in corporate donations to his Texas-based political action committee, which then funneled those funds to seven candidates in 2002 through a money swap coordinated with an arm of the Washington-based Republican National Committee. Under state law, corporate money cannot be given directly to political campaigns.
Prosecutors claimed the money helped Republicans take control of the Texas House and ultimately send more Texas Republicans to Congress in 2004.
The lower appeals court, however, ruled there was insufficient evidence for a jury to have convicted DeLay, who had been sentenced to three years in prison, but that was put on hold while his case was appealed.
The Court of Criminal Appeals said Wednesday there was nothing in the case record to show DeLay knew he was "conducting, supervising or facilitating a transaction that involved the proceeds of criminal activity." Prosecutors failed to establish the "requisite culpable mental state" to prove the offenses, the high court said in its 38-page decision.
In a brief concurring opinion, Judges Cheryl Johnson and Cathy Cochran referred to the transactions as "wheeling and dealing (that) was a tad shady, but legal."
The lone dissenter, Judge Lawrence Meyers, called the high court's ruling deficient and said the court had "changed the law and ignored the facts in order to arrive at a desired outcome."
DeLay, whose heavy-handed style in the House earned him the nickname "The Hammer," said he doesn't know whether he would still be in Congress had he not been indicted, but added the experience has made him "a better man."
"The way I look at it is in a sort of joking way, that the Lord was ready for me to get out of politics. I just wish he had picked another way of doing it," said DeLay, who added he remains involved in politics, writing a weekly column for The Washington Times and hosting a show on the conservative newspaper's radio network.
Associated Press writer Juan A. Lozano contributed to this report.
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