AUSTIN, Texas – U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay was indicted again on Monday – this time on money laundering charges – in an escalating criminal case that has far-ranging political implications in both Texas and Washington.

The new indictment accuses DeLay, R-Texas, of illegally circumventing the state’s law against corporate campaign contributions, and was issued by a newly empanelled Travis County grand jury on the first day of its term.

The new indictment follows on the heels of indictments against DeLay and his associates by a separate Travis County grand jury on Sept. 28, the last day of that grand jury’s term.

DeLay called the new charge an “abomination of justice” by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle. It came just as DeLay’s attorneys were filing a motion to dismiss the first charge against him because the law he was alleged to have broken was not in effect at the time of the alleged offense.

“Ronnie Earle has stooped to a new low with his brand of prosecutorial abuse,” DeLay said in a statement. “He is trying to pull the legal equivalent of a “do-over’ since he knows very well that the charges he brought against me last week are totally manufactured and illegitimate.”

More than 40 grand jury indictments have been returned so far in Earle’s 2 1/2-year investigation of Republican campaign tactics during 2002 state House elections in Texas. The investigation centers on allegations that DeLay and others circumvented Texas’ prohibition against corporate campaign contributions during those House races, which many then believed would be close.

Specifically, DeLay, 58, is accused of conspiring with Jim Ellis of Washington, D.C., and John Colyandro of Austin to convert $190,000 in donations from several corporations into campaign contributions on behalf of seven Republican state House candidates.

According to the district attorney’s office, that corporate money was sent from Austin to Washington, and then sent back to Texas in the form of contributions to candidates for the state Legislature. Texas law makes it a felony for corporations and labor unions to contribute to political candidates.

Earle’s office reports that the indictments returned Monday accuse DeLay, the former House majority leader, of both money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. The indictment also consolidates previous charges against Colyandro and Ellis, and adds DeLay as a defendant to money laundering charges.

The latest indictment carries a far stiffer penalty than the one handed down last week.

If convicted on the money laundering charge, which is a first-degree felony, DeLay would face a sentence of up to five years’ probation to life in prison, and a fine of up to $10,000. Conspiracy to commit money laundering is a second-degree felony punishable by to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

By contrast, the original conspiracy indictment carried a sentence of two years in a state jail and a fine of up to $10,000.

The new charges came just hours after DeLay’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the initial conspiracy charges against him. DeLay’s attorneys based that motion on the argument that the conspiracy charge was from a law not in effect until 2003 – the year after the alleged money transfers.

“Since the indictment charges no offense, and since you have professed not to be politically motivated in bringing this indictment, I request that you immediately agree to dismiss the indictment so that the political consequences can be reversed,” DeLay’s attorney, Dick DeGuerin of Houston, wrote in a letter to Earle.

University of Texas law professor George Dix, an expert in election legal matters, said Monday night that he believes DeGuerin is wrong in maintaining that the initial conspiracy complaint against DeLay was not valid in 2002, when the indictment says the offense was committed.

The 2003 legislative session simply made explicit the somewhat “awkward language” of the law that already made it a criminal conspiracy to agree to violate election laws, Dix said.

“I don’t see any reason to think that, in 2002, it was not a crime of conspiracy to agree to violate the election code in a way that would be a felony,” he said.

Bruce Buchanan, a political science professor at the University of Texas, said the new development is a public-image setback for DeLay.

“It certainly doesn’t help for Tom DeLay to have another indictment splashed all over the front pages of the newspapers across the country,” Buchanan said.

DeLay has been forced to cede his position as House majority leader in the U.S. Congress. He is due to appear in a Travis County courtroom in Austin on Oct. 21 to formally hear the charges against him.

Democratic politicians were quick to condemn both DeLay and the Republican leadership.

“The second criminal indictment of Congressman DeLay is yet another example that Republicans in Congress are plagued by a culture of corruption and cronyism at the expense of the American people,” said Jennifer Crider, press secretary to House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, a Houston Democrat now running for governor who filed an ethics complaint against DeLay last year, was quick to pounce on the latest indictment.

“Tom DeLay needs to stop blaming other people and take responsibility for his own corruption,” said Bell’s spokesman Jason Stanford.

But Kevin Madden, a spokesman for DeLay, said Earle was seeking “partisan justice” and only sought the new indictment Monday because the first indictment would not hold up in court.

“Fully understanding his error in manufacturing an illegitimate and baseless charge that could not hold up against Mr. DeLay, Ronnie Earle panicked and decided to persuade yet another grand jury to bring this ridiculous new charge,” Madden said.

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