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Prosecutors nearing end in case against Tom DeLay

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Prosecutors in the Tom DeLay money laundering trial could be close to wrapping up their case against the former U.S. House majority leader.

Testimony in the trial, entering its third week, was to resume on Monday in Austin, with prosecutors saying they may rest their case the following day. DeLay is accused of using his political action committee to illegally funnel $190,000 in corporate funds into Texas legislative races in 2002.

DeLay, who has denied wrongdoing, maintains that the money swap at the center of the case was legal, no corporate money went to Texas candidates and he had little involvement in how the PAC was run.

The former Houston-area congressman is charged with money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.

Most of the prosecution’s evidence — including testimony from nearly 30 witnesses and volumes of e-mails and other documents — has been circumstantial and didn’t directly tie DeLay to the alleged scheme.

The most dramatic piece of evidence so far was an interview DeLay gave to prosecutors in August 2005, just before he was indicted.

In an audio tape of the interview played for jurors, DeLay is heard saying he knew beforehand about a money swap authorities allege was actually a scheme to “clean” corporate donations and get them to Texas GOP candidates.

DeLay has said he misspoke to prosecutors and didn’t know about the transaction until later.

Prosecutors allege DeLay and two associates — John Colyandro and Jim Ellis — illegally channeled the corporate donations collected by DeLay’s PAC in Texas through the Washington-based Republican National Committee. Under Texas law, corporate money cannot go directly to political campaigns.

Prosecutors allege that the money helped Republicans take control of the Texas House in 2002. That majority allowed the GOP to push through a Delay-engineered congressional redistricting plan that sent more Texas Republicans to Congress in 2004, and strengthened DeLay’s political power, prosecutors said.

DeLay’s attorneys have said the charges against him were politically motivated, which prosecutors deny.

Politics and the contentious 2003 redistricting fight in Texas have been themes of much of the testimony, prompting Senior Judge Pat Priest last week to tell prosecutors and defense attorneys to stop focusing on these topics and “get on with the law.”

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, now 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.”

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