Former US House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, once considered among the nation's most powerful and feared politicians, has been sentenced to three years in prison for a scheme to influence elections.
The sentence comes after a jury in November convicted DeLay, a Houston-area Republican, on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering for using a political action committee to illegally send corporate donations to Texas House candidates in 2002.
Prosecutors said DeLay will likely be free for months or even years as his appeal makes it through the Texas court system. Before being sentenced, DeLay repeated his long-standing claims that he did nothing wrong, the prosecution was politically motivated and that he never intended to break the law.
DeLay was convicted in Travis County, one of the most Democratic counties in Texas, which is one of the most Republican states in the country. The case had already cost him his job, leadership post and millions of dollars in legal fees
"I can't be remorseful for something I don't think I did," DeLay said in a 10-minute speech to the judge.
DeLay told Senior Judge Pat Priest the "selective prosecution" he has gone through has deeply affected his wife's health, forced him to raise and spend 10 million US dollars in legal fees and cost him everything he has worked for - including the second-highest post in the US House.
"This criminalisation of politics is very dangerous. It's dangerous to our system. Just because somebody disagrees with you they got to put you in jail, bankrupt you, destroy your family," he said.
Mr 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 serve 10 years of probation instead of more prison time.
"I do not agree that the Travis County District Attorney's Office has picked on Tom DeLay to persecute," Mr Priest said.
DeLay was briefly taken into custody, but Mr Priest granted a request from his lawyers that he be released on a 10,000 US dollars bond pending appeal. About three hours after he was sentenced, DeLay posted bond and walked out of the county jail without talking to reporters.