Friday, October 19, 2012

Is the Use of Checks Covered by Texas Money Laundering Law?

Tom Delay, the former U.S. House Majority Leader convicted for money laundering, made his appearance in court on October 10, 2012 to make his case for innocence. [1]  Mr. Delay has been free on bond since his sentencing in 2011 and since then spent his time making appearances on the reality television show "Dancing with the Stars." [2]  If Mr. Delay loses his current appeal, he can potentially appeal to the state's Court of Criminal Appeals.  However, if the conviction is upheld, Mr. Delay may face up to three years in prison and five years of probation. [1]

Since his conviction, Delay has maintained that he did nothing wrong, the prosecution was politically motivated, and that he did not intend to break the law.  "I can't be remorseful for something I don't think I did," stated Delay to the judge at his trial.  Mr. Delay was convicted of illegally channeling $190,000 in corporate donations to Republicans running for Texas statehouse, and Texas law prevents corporate donations to local races. [2]  Mr. Delay's lawyer, Brian Wice, argued on appeal on the issues of whether checks were included in the state's money laundering laws.  Mr. Wice believed that the legislature didn't intend to criminalize the use of checks as a means of committing money laundering.  Wice argued that if Texas had intended to include checks in the definition of funds for the state's money laundering law, checks would have been included in the statute when Texas first passed the law in 1993. [3]  However, the law was amended in 2005 to include checks.  Wice claimed that although Delay's actions were potentially distasteful to people, he did not commit a crime.  In Delay's favor, the appellate judges expressed doubt of how donations made to Delay's PAC became considered proceeds of criminal activity under the money laundering statute.

On the other hand, Prosecutor Holly Taylor argued that judges shouldn't consider such a narrow interpretation of the Texas money laundering law, and checks were meant to be considered. [3]  Taylor referred to other cases in review in other appellate courts around the states and stated that crimes were being prosecuted in money laundering by individuals using checks, and the penal statute would should not be strictly construed. [3]  Additionally, Taylor argued that while corporate money can legally be used to pay for administrative costs, Delay's PAC told companies that the funds would be provided directly to the campaigns, turning their money into criminal proceeds. [3]

Should the money laundering laws be strictly construed, or should the money laundering laws be more loosely constructed to include checks?  The money laundering laws and Texas election laws may not provide a clear answer, but the purpose of the law would be better served if the money laundering laws are more loosely construed to include checks.  Although the money laundering laws did not initially intend to include checks, the law was amended in 2005 to include checks.  This amendment implies that Texas did intend to include checks within the scope of money laundering.  The amendment was probably made to adjust to changing technologies.  Additionally, Delay's PAC told corporations that the contributions would go straight to the campaigns, instead of paying for administrative costs.  Delay's PAC had the intention of including the $190,000 for administrative costs that could be linked to campaigns.  Delay's PAC ended up benefiting the campaigns indirectly, and Delay's intention was clear in his PAC's statement to the companies.  Therefore, Delay violated the money laundering laws with his use of checks.  It would be unsurprising to see a former House Leader missing from "Dancing with the Stars" if Delay's conviction is upheld.

Amelia Wong
Blogger, Criminal Law Brief

Video by: Youtube, Associated Press


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