WASHINGTON – A grand jury in Texas declined to indict former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search) and two of his associates last week before another grand jury indicted them on money laundering charges.
"We have inquired carefully into the case" and "failed to find a bill of indictment against him," the grand jury said. A judge then issued an order of "no-bill" for DeLay and his associates Jim Ellis (search) and John Colyandro (search).
Copies of the no-bill do not contain the alleged charges or offense dates, according to the Travis County district clerk's office.
DeLay, Ellis and Colyandro were indicted last week by a grand jury on a charge of criminal conspiracy to violate election laws. The indictment forced DeLay to step down as majority leader pending the outcome of the case.
Evidence was then heard by the grand jury that didn't indict. A third grand jury brought the money laundering charges Monday.
Dick DeGuerin, attorney for DeLay, sought to have the original conspiracy charge dismissed Monday by arguing in a court filing that the indictment was based on a law that the Legislature changed law in 2003. The indictment alleges that the illegal acts date to 2002. On the same day, a new Travis County grand jury brought an indictment against DeLay that included one count of conspiracy to launder money and one count of money laundering.
DeGuerin said Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle (search) learned of his plan and went to a third grand jury to get the money laundering charges. DeGuerin accused Earle of "trying to patch up a terrible blunder he made last week for indicting Mr. DeLay for something that wasn't a crime."
But Earle said in a statement released late Tuesday that issues had arisen so he went to the second grand jury.
"Out of an abundance of caution because of the passage of time, the district attorney's office presented some evidence of those allegations to another grand jury. That grand jury declined to indict on the last day of its regular term," on Sept. 28, Earle's statement said.
Earle said prosecutors found new evidence over the weekend and presented it to the third grand jury on Monday, leading to the new indictment on money laundering charges.
Earle did not release any details about the new evidence Tuesday.
The newest charges are more severe, carrying up to five years' probation or up to life in prison. The possible penalty for a conspiracy conviction is up to two years in state jail.
DeGuerin said he believes the new indictment replaces the first. But Earle said prosecutors would press ahead with all three charges, and the final decision would be resolved by a judge.
The money laundering indictment claims DeLay's political committee, Texans for a Republican Majority (search), accepted corporate contributions and then sent $190,000 to the Republican National Committee with a list of seven Texas state House candidates that should receive contributions. The committee then allegedly issued checks to the candidates for a total of $190,000.
Prosecutors have argued that was a violation of the state's ban on the use of corporate money in local election campaigns.
The allege DeLay, Colyandro and Ellis hatched a campaign-finance scheme to boost Republicans to victory in state House races in 2002. The GOP won a majority in the House that year and took control of the chamber in January 2003 for the first time in 130 years. The Republican-controlled Legislature then passed a GOP-leaning congressional redistricting plan brokered by DeLay that put more Republicans in Congress.