Former Travis County Assistant District Attorney Rick Reed is on the record that one-time U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay broke the law--but he is also certain the DA’s office dropped the ball on one of the biggest trials in county history.
DeLay, 66, was convicted of felony money laundering in 2010, stemming from charges that he illegally used his political action committee, Texas For A Republican Majority, or TRMPAC, to give GOP candidates $190,000 during the 2002 state house races. The Travis County District Attorney's Office indicted DeLay in 2005 and the following year DeLay resigned from Congress.
Since his trial, DeLay has been out on bond pending on appeal. On Thursday, Texas’ 3rd Court of Appeals overturned his conviction.
Reed was a prosecutor inside the Travis County Public Integrity Unit, tasked with uncovering political corruption. He said he diligently sifted through a mountain of evidence, including bank records, election code and campaign filings which helped lead to the indictments of TRMPAC officers Tom Delay, Jim Ellis and John Colyandro.
"This entire investigation was extremely complicated,” Reed said. “Both on a factual level and a legal level."
Reed criticizes trial prosecutor Gary Cobb for allowing the appeals court to shoot holes in DeLay’s conviction. He believes Cobb failed to prove corporate money raised for political reasons was a violation of state law in the TRMPAC case.
"Unfortunately the prosecutors who tried this didn't understand the law," Reed said.
The 3rd court opinion stated prosecutors did not prove illegal money was ever used reading, “The fundamental problem with the State’s case was its failure to prove proceeds of criminal activity.”
Reed blames prosecutors for lacking understanding of state election code, as it applies to the money laundering allegation.
DeLay’s fundraising associates, Ellis and Colyandro, never went to trial. Colyandro pleaded guilty to accepting illegal campaign contributions and was sentenced to one-year deferred adjudication and an $8,000 fine. Ellis also pleaded guilty in 2012 to making illegal campaign contributions and was sentenced to four years probation and a $10,000 fine.
Colyandro's attorney, Joe Turner, blasts the DA’s prosecution, saying the entire case was bunk from the beginning.
"John paid a tremendous price," Turner said. "This opinion says the DA's office was absolutely wrong."
Turner said the prosecution was fueled by legal incompetence and partisan politics.
"They can't get away from that,” he said. “It was clearly motivated by that."
Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg defends the work her office did three years ago. She told YNN the jury did its job in landing the felony money laundering conviction.
"[They] sat on this case for three weeks and listened to the testimony and found that the evidence was sufficient for guilt," Lehmberg said.
Prosecutors now are busy preparing to take this case to the next level of appeals.