The sentence comes after a jury in November convicted DeLay on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The Republican who represented the Houston area was once one of the most powerful people in US politics, ascending to the No 2 job in the House of Representatives. During a several-minute statement to the judge prior to sentencing, DeLay repeated his longstanding claims that the prosecution was politically motivated and that he never intended to break the law.
“I can’t be remorseful for something I don’t think I did,” DeLay said.
Senior judge Pat Priest sentenced him to the three-year term on the conspiracy charge. He also sentenced him to five years in prison on the money laundering charge but allowed DeLay to accept 10 years of probation instead of more prison time.
DeLay was immediately taken into custody, but Priest granted a request from his attorneys that he be released on a $10,000 bond pending appeal once he is processed at the county jail.
Prosecutors said it could mean DeLay will be free for months or even years as his appeal makes it through the Texas court system.
DeLay’s attorney Dick DeGuerin said he expected the conviction would be overturned. “If I told you what I thought, I’d get sued,” DeGuerin said. “This will not stand.”
The former congressman had faced up to life in prison. His attorneys asked for probation.
“What we feel is that justice was served,” lead prosecutor Gary Cobb said.
Priest issued his ruling after a brief sentencing hearing on Monday in which former US House speaker Dennis Hastert testified on DeLay’s behalf.
Prosecutors attempted to present only one witness at the hearing, Peter Cloeren, a Texas businessman who claimed DeLay had urged him in 1996 to evade campaign finance laws in a separate case. Prosecutors said the case was similar to the one DeLay was being sentenced for.
But not long after Cloeren began testifying, senior judge Pat Priest declined to hear the testimony, saying prosecutors couldn’t prove the businessman’s claims beyond a reasonable doubt.
“You lose. I will not hear this testimony,” Priest said after agreeing with DeLay’s attorneys, who objected to the testimony, saying the former lawmaker was not criminally charged in the case. Cloeren pleaded guilty to directing illegal corporate money into the 1996 congressional campaign of an East Texas candidate.
DeLay’s attorneys had indicated they would have up to nine witnesses but decided to present only Hastert. The Illinois Republican who was House speaker from 1999 to 2006, testified that DeLay was not motivated by power but by a need to help others.