Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was convicted Wednesday of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. The money laundering charge carries a 99-year maximum sentence — in other words, life in prison.
But don’t expect DeLay to be sent away for the rest of his days.
“It is absolutely impossible he would get anywhere near life,” Philip Hilder, a Texas criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, told the Associated Press. “It would be a period of a few years, if he gets prison.”
Prosecutors told the Austin-American Statesman on Wednesday that they had not decided whether to ask Judge Pat Priest, who will sentence DeLay, for a prison sentence. Other potential punishments include probation and fines.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Dec. 20. Whatever the sentence, DeLay is expected to appeal his conviction.
“This is an abuse of power,” DeLay said outside court after the verdict was read. “It’s a miscarriage of justice and I still maintain that I am innocent.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, if DeLay gets less than 10 years he may be able to stay free on bond while he appeals.
“I think in a lot of cases a judge wants to make an example, but I don’t see that happening here,” Barry Pollack, a lawyer in D.C. who defends against government corruption charges, told the AP. Pollack said the judge might figure conviction is punishment enough for DeLay.
The sentencing hearing promises to be a second trial onto itself, with both sides calling witnesses to attest to DeLay’s character, or lack thereof.
DeLay was found guilty of orchestrating a money swap during the 2002 Texas state house elections that helped Republicans take the state house and then re-draw district maps in the state, putting more Republicans in the U.S. House and consolidating DeLay’s power.