Earle, Sears strike a deal in election caseCompany will aid in investigation in exchange for dismissal of charges
By Jason Embry, Austin American-Statesman
Friday, December 31, 2004
Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle dismissed a felony indictment Thursday against Sears, Roebuck and Co., the second corporation to avoid prosecution after agreeing to help Earle's investigation of corporate spending in the 2002 legislative elections.
The Illinois-based retail giant was one of eight companies charged with making illegal political donations. The indictments, handed down in September, stemmed from Earle's two-year investigation of Texans for a Republican Majority, an organization that U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay helped create. Three DeLay associates also were indicted.
In its agreement with Earle, Sears promised to cooperate in the "prosecution and investigation of any other person for any offense related to the corporate contribution made by the defendant." The company also agreed that it will not make any illegal political contributions in any state and that it will disclose corporate contributions on its Web site.
The agreement states that Earle believes the offense by Sears was an isolated incident in Texas. It also states that Earle thinks the evidence shows that Sears made the contribution based on false information from the fund-raiser who solicited the contribution, and that the company did not intend to violate state law.
The fund-raiser mentioned in the agreement is Warren Robold, who was hired to raise money for the Republican political action committee primarily from corporations, said Rusty Hardin, Robold's lawyer.
A similar allegation about misleading information from a fund-raiser was mentioned in an agreement filed earlier this month dismissing charges against California-based Diversified Collection Services.
Hardin said his client did not mislead the companies about how their money would be used.
"I want to meet the man that's going to get on the stand and swear under oath that he was given false and misleading information," Hardin said.
Robold was indicted on nine counts of accepting and making illegal corporate contributions.
Sears, which gave the Republican group $25,000, welcomed the dismissal. The company plans to financially support educational programs at the University of Texas on the laws governing political contributions and the role of corporations and other groups in politics.
Thursday's dismissal appeared to be the latest step in Earle's divide-and-conquer strategy to strengthen his case against the defendants. Along with Robold, the grand jury indicted John Colyandro, the former executive director of the Republican group, and Jim Ellis, who was DeLay's chief fund-raiser.
Lawyers for those defendants said they were not worried about Sears' cooperation in the case because their clients are not guilty. Ellis and Colyandro filed documents this week seeking to have their indictments dropped.
Colyandro's lawyer, Joe Turner, argued that his client could not have accepted illegal corporate contributions because he is not a candidate, officeholder or political committee. Texas law states that only those three entities are capable of illegally accepting contributions.
J.D. Pauerstein, Ellis' lawyer, argued that the election law is too broad and too vague and that the indictment doesn't support the charge that Ellis laundered money, among other arguments.
Ellis and Colyandro were indicted on one count of money laundering each. Colyandro also was indicted on 13 counts of unlawful acceptance of a corporate political contribution.
The Republican committee helped the GOP take control of the state House, a goal that was important to DeLay because he wanted the Legislature to draw new congressional districts that favored Republicans.
Earle has said other indictments could follow.