Former Texas Rep. Steve Stockman was accused by a federal prosecutor in his corruption trial of running a “massive scam” in which he funneled charitable donations for his campaign and personal use and lied about it.
The former Texas Republican congressman’s trial began on Monday.
“It is the story of a man who thinks that the rules are for other people,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Heberle said in his opening statement, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Heberle said Stockman cheated federal election laws and lied to donors to his charity.
But Stockman’s lawyer Sean Buckley said his client simply lost track of his finances despite being trained as an accountant.
“The core is question of whether Mr. Stockman lied with the intent to steal money,” Buckley said.
Buckley defended Stockman saying he was a man of humble means, driving “an old beat-up van,” eating cheap fast food and having run his House campaign out of a “run-down dirty motorcycle repair shop.”
“Stephen Stockman is a bright man, in some sense he may be a political a visionary, but he is absentminded … and he doesn’t always follow through on some of the important projects he starts,” Buckley said.
But FBI Special Agent Leanna Saler testified a $350,000 charitable donation meant for Stockman’s charity called Life without Limits was deposited into a nearly empty account and transferred that money to two aides.
Among the 28 charges, Stockman is accused of wire fraud, money laundering, violating federal election law, and filing a false tax return.
Two of Stockman’s former aides have already plead guilty to charges related to the charity.
Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal said she wanted the trial to be apolitical and wanted the jury not to be swayed by sympathy.
“I only care if your opinions about politics are so firmly entrenched… for example, you just don’t like Republicans or you just don’t like Democrats and that’s going to reflect in your opinion in this case.”
Stockman served in the House from 1995 to 1997 and again from 2013 to 2015. The charges against him stem from Stockman’s 2012 House campaign and his unsuccessful 2014 bid against Sen. John Cornyn.