3 DeLay Aides Facing Charges in Fund InquiryBy GLEN JUSTICE and SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, New York Times
September 22, 2004
WASHINGTON, Sept. 21 - Three aides who helped run a political action committee created by the House majority leader, Tom DeLay, were indicted by a grand jury in Texas on Tuesday on charges that included raising illegal corporate contributions and funneling them to state candidates during the 2002 elections.
Eight companies were also charged, including Sears Roebuck & Company and Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc.
The 32 separate indictments sprang from a two-year investigation by local prosecutors into Texans for a Republican Majority P.A.C., a committee created by Mr. DeLay that spent $1.5 million to help Republicans gain control of the Texas House. The Republicans then used that power to carve Texas into new Congressional districts that political analysts say will bring them at least five new seats in this year's elections.
The charges against the aides come at a time when Mr. DeLay himself is under investigation by the House ethics committee over accusations of improper fund-raising. News of the indictments led to fresh calls for the committee to move forward with its inquiry.
At his regular weekly press briefing on Tuesday, Mr. DeLay dismissed the indictment as politically motivated, insisting that he had no knowledge of the day-to-day workings at the political action committee and that he had played no role in determining how it spent money. The majority leader, who has repeatedly said he was not a target in the Texas investigation, seemed calm and collected as reporters strafed him with questions.
"This just emphasizes what I've been saying all along, that this investigation isn't about me,'' he said. "I haven't been asked to testify, I haven't been asked to provide any records, I haven't been asked to come as a witness.''
But critics say that the charges are an ominous development for one of the most powerful figures in Congress, whose fund-raising strategies have been repeatedly questioned by Democrats and campaign finance watchdogs over the years, even as he rose through the Republican ranks to become the second-most powerful Republican in the House.
"This first round of indictments reaches directly into DeLay's inner circle,'' said Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice, the group that filed a complaint that helped lead to the Texas investigation. "The cloud hovering over DeLay just got several shades darker.''
The indictments allege that Texans for a Republican Majority P.A.C. raised corporate contributions that were illegal under Texas laws and directed the money to state candidates by using other organizations as a conduit, according to prosecution documents.
The indictments say the P.A.C. gave $190,000 to a committee controlled by the Republican National Committee, along with a list suggesting which state candidates the committee should contribute to and in what amounts, documents say. The indictment says the Republican National Committee, through the same committee, later made $190,000 in contributions to seven candidates for the Texas House of Representatives.
James W. Ellis, 47, of Virginia, a top DeLay aide and one of the committee's officers, was charged with money laundering in a single indictment, documents say. The indictment alleges that he was the one who presented the check and the list to the Republican National Committee.
The committee's executive director, John D. Colyandro, 40, of Texas, was charged with illegally accepting corporate contributions in 13 indictments and a 14th indictment charged him with money laundering, documents say.
And a fund-raiser for the committee, Warren M. Robold, 48, of Maryland, was changed in nine indictments with soliciting and receiving illegal corporate contributions, documents say.
Officials at the Republican National Committee could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
The grand jury also indicted eight companies, accusing them of making illegal contributions to the committee, ranging from $25,000 to $100,000. They are: Sears, Bacardi U.S.A. Inc., Westar Energy Inc., Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Williams Companies Inc., the Questerra Corporation, Diversified Collection Services Inc. and Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care Inc.
Texas prosecutors say that the investigation is continuing.
"What has emerged is the outline of an effort to use corporate contributions to control representative democracy in Texas," said Ronald Earle, the district attorney in Travis County. Mr. Earle would not say whether Mr. DeLay was a target of the investigation. "Anybody who has committed a crime in this context is a target," he said.
In an interview earlier this year, Mr. Ellis said that he, Mr. DeLay and Mr. Colyandro created Texans for a Republican Majority P.A.C. and that Mr. DeLay served on a five-member advisory board that decided which candidates to endorse.
Mr. Ellis is executive director of Mr. DeLay's own political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority.