The prosecutor who indicted Tom DeLay is back in the news. In 2005, Byron broke the story of how he agreed to drop charges against four companies in exchange for contributions to one of his pet causes. At the time, experts called the deal unusual, even if it didn’t appear to be criminal. But now one of his former aides says he warned the prosecutor, Ronnie Earle, that the deal was improper:
Settlement discussions, [former Earle aide Rick] Reed said, centered on dismissing the indictments in exchange for a donation by the businesses to a program at Stanford University on deliberative polling, which uses TV programs to change public opinion on different issues. Talk later shifted to having the businesses donate money to a similar program at UT.
Reed said he was immediately concerned about what he saw as an improper quid pro quo: a dismissal for a donation to a program furthering Earle’s belief that corporate money is a threat to democracy. He found an attorney general’s opinion from 1999 that advised against dismissing a case in exchange for contribution to an anti-crime organization.
Reed said a day after a December 2004 meeting between prosecutors and lawyers for Sears, he was convinced Earle should abandon course.
Reed wrote in an e-mail to Earle of his “grave concerns,” explaining that payments from defendants should be restricted to fines payable to the state, restitution or reimbursement of the costs of the investigation. A separate e-mail suggested that striking an agreement could turn prosecutors into criminal defendants themselves.
Earle accused the companies of making illegal contributions to DeLay’s PACs. DeLay’s case still hasn’t gone to trial.