AUSTIN, Texas — Attorneys for Tom DeLay have started their defense in his money laundering trial by focusing on when the former U.S. House majority leader learned about the money swap at the center of the case and whether such transactions were common.
But testimony from one of the first defense witnesses, Mary Ellen Bos, might have cast some doubt about how DeLay first learned of the money swap. Bos was in charge of DeLay's schedule in 2002, when prosecutors allege the former Houston-area congressman used his political action committee to illegally channel $190,000 in corporate donations into Texas legislative races.
Under Texas law, corporate money cannot go directly to political campaigns.
DeLay is charged with money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering and could face up to life in prison if convicted.
DeLay and his attorneys say no corporate money went to Texas candidates, the money swap in question was legal and the ex-lawmaker had little involvement in how his PAC in Texas was run.
DeLay's attorneys began presenting witnesses after prosecutors wrapped up their case Wednesday.
DeLay is accused with two associates — John Colyandro and Jim Ellis — of illegally channeling corporate donations collected by the PAC through an arm of the Washington-based Republican National Committee or RNC. The money went to seven Texas House candidates in 2002.
DeLay has claimed he was first informed by Ellis about the money swap on Oct. 2, 2002, after it had been approved. DeLay has said he didn't meet with Ellis in the month before that date.
Under cross examination Wednesday, Bos said Ellis had been in DeLay's Washington office on Sept. 5, 2002, as well as on Sept. 11, 2002. Prosecutors told jurors that an hour before Ellis was in DeLay's office on Sept. 11, he had received a blank check from the PAC's accountant in Austin. That check was later sent to the RNC and filled out for $190,000.
Two former RNC officials testified that the money swap was not unusual and such transactions had been commonly done by political parties.
Most of the prosecution's case has been circumstantial and hasn't directly tied DeLay to the alleged scheme. But in an audio interview that was played for jurors, DeLay said he knew beforehand about the money swap. DeLay says he misspoke in the interview with prosecutors and didn't find out about the transaction until after it happened.
The once powerful but polarizing Texas congressman has long denied any wrongdoing.
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."