We already know that Travis County DA Ronnie Earle made deals with two of the corporation (Sears, Roebuck and Co. and DCS Inc.) indicted along with three of Tom DeLay’s cronies for illegal campaign contributions and money laundering. Now it looks like he’s flipped the six remaining corporations (Williams Companies Inc., Bacardi USA, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care, Questerra Corp. and Westar Energy Inc.) under indictment as well.
The negotiations could underscore a painstaking strategy by investigators to pit defendants in the case against one another. Prosecutors hope to learn specific information from companies that are required to talk — who solicited donations, who collected the money, how it was delivered and what, if anything, was promised in return.
That information could be critical because investigators believe these sorts of transactions are conducted largely through verbal agreement. Without a paper trail, prosecutors may never fully understand the donations without the cooperation of the companies.
“I’m not saying it means guilty verdicts. But obviously the testimony of one party to a transaction is significant,” said Fred Lewis, director of the Austin nonpartisan organization Campaigns for People, which fights the influence of money on state government.
“This is a significant development for getting to the truth. What happened down here was not pretty. Most people who don’t have on partisan blinders — blinders of either party — take this investigation exceedingly seriously.”
One legal source with knowledge of the investigation said the agreements with the companies could help target “big fish” in the Republican Party by persuading the three DeLay aides to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for leniency or dismissal of their cases. The aides face 10-year prison sentences if convicted.
“If you are looking at 10 … years in jail, are you going to take the hit for Tom DeLay?” the source asked.
Let’s see, what were my choices again? Ten years in prison in Texas or squeal on Tom DeLay? Get out your pen, Mr. Earle.