AUSTIN, Texas — Former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, once considered among the nation's most powerful and feared lawmakers, was sentenced to three years in prison Monday for a scheme to influence elections that already cost him his job, leadership post and millions of dollars in legal fees.
The sentence comes after a jury in November convicted DeLay, a Houston-area Republican, on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering for using a political action committee to illegally send corporate donations to Texas House candidates in 2002.
Prosecutors said DeLay will likely be free for months or even years as his appeal makes it through the Texas court system.
Before being sentenced, DeLay repeated his longstanding claims that he did nothing wrong, the prosecution was politically motivated and that he never intended to break the law. DeLay was convicted in Travis County, one of the most Democratic counties in Texas, which is one of the most Republican states in the country.
"I can't be remorseful for something I don't think I did," DeLay said in a 10-minute speech to the judge.
DeLay told Senior Judge Pat Priest the "selective prosecution" he's gone through has deeply affected his wife's health, forced him to raise and spend $10 million in legal fees and cost him everything he has worked for — including the second-highest post in the U.S. House.
"This criminalization of politics is very dangerous. It's dangerous to our system. Just because somebody disagrees with you they got to put you in jail, bankrupt you, destroy your family," he said.
Priest sentenced him to the three-year term on the conspiracy charge. He also sentenced him to five years in prison on the money laundering charge but allowed DeLay to serve 10 years of probation instead of more prison time.
"I do not agree that the Travis County District Attorney's Office has picked on Tom DeLay to persecute," Priest said.
DeLay was briefly taken into custody, but Priest granted a request from his attorneys that he be released on a $10,000 bond pending appeal. About three hours after he was sentenced, DeLay posted bond and walked out of the county jail without talking to reporters.
DeLay's attorney Dick DeGuerin said he expected the conviction would be overturned.
"If I told you what I thought, I'd get sued," DeGuerin said. "This will not stand."
The former congressman had faced up to life in prison. His attorneys asked for probation.
"What we feel is that justice was served," lead prosecutor Gary Cobb said.
During his closing argument, Cobb told Priest that if DeLay received only probation, the ex-lawmaker would use such a sentence to make himself a martyr for his political beliefs and that he would "wear probation like Jesus on the cross."
"He put his principles, ideals and beliefs above the laws of Texas," Cobb said.
Priest issued his ruling after a brief sentencing hearing on Monday in which former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert testified on DeLay's behalf.
Prosecutors attempted to present only one witness at the hearing, Peter Cloeren, a Southeast Texas businessman who claimed DeLay had urged him in 1996 to evade campaign finance laws in a separate case. Prosecutors said the case was similar to the one DeLay was being sentenced for.
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