Federal Prosecutors Investigating Clinton Commutations
NBC - February 23, 2001
NEW YORK, Federal prosecutors are investigating whether former President Clinton commuted the sentences of four convicted swindlers in exchange for Hasidic Jewish votes for his wife during her run for the Senate.
The four men were members of the Hasidic
community of New Square, which voted
overwhelmingly for Hillary Rodham Clinton
when she was elected in November.
U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White is
investigating their commutations as part of a
probe that is also said to include the pardon
of fugitive financier Marc Rich, according to
a source who spoke on condition of
Julia Payne, a spokeswoman for the former
president, referred all questions to Clinton
attorney David Kendall, who did not
immediately return calls for comment.
"Senator Clinton has spoken about this
pardon on several occasions and we do not
have anything to add at this time," said her
spokeswoman, Karen Dunne.
Mrs. Clinton has said previously that she
did not discuss the men's fate with Hasidic
leaders before the election but sat in on a
December meeting with supporters of
clemency for them. However, she said she
played no part in her husband's decision.
"I did not play any role whatsoever," she
said last month. "I had no opinion about it."
It is unusual for a first lady to sit in on a
The commutations are part of a growing
furor over several of the 140 pardons the
president made on his last day in office. Also
under scrutiny are two pardons for which
Mrs. Clinton's brother Hugh Rodham
received $400,000; two pardons on which
her campaign treasurer performed legal
work; and the possible role of the former
president's half-brother, Roger Clinton, in
some other cases.
Mrs. Clinton traveled to New Square, in
suburban Rockland County, during her Senate
campaign and met Grand Rabbi David
Twersky. Many Hasidic communities tend to
vote in blocs, and because of that, politicians
aggressively court their leaders.
Mrs. Clinton received 1,400 votes in New
Square; her Republican opponent, Rick
Lazio, received 12.
The four Hasidic men, Kalmen Stern,
David Goldstein, Benjamin Berger and Jacob
Elbaum, were convicted of stealing more than
$40 million worth of education grants, small
business loans and housing subsidies by
creating a fictitious religious school to
receive government money.
Supporters of the men have not denied
their guilt but said they did not keep the
money for themselves and gave it instead to a
school and residents of the village.
The men were sentenced in 1999 to 2 1/2
to 6 1/2 years in prison. Clinton reduced
Berger's sentence from 2 1/2 years to two.
The other defendants had their sentences
reduced to 2 1/2 years. All four are still
"We have not been made aware of any
investigation and therefore there's nothing to
comment about," said the men's lawyer,
The disclosure comes a day after another
potentially damaging revelation, Mrs.
Clinton's campaign treasurer, William
Cunningham III, received $4,000 in legal fees
to prepare two pardon applications sent to
the Justice Department.
At a news conference Friday, Cunningham
denied any impropriety. "I have no qualms
about anything I did here," he said. "I am a
former federal prosecutor. I am an
experienced defense attorney."
Cunningham said neither of the two
Arkansas men, restaurateurs Robert Clinton
Fain and James Lowell Manning of Little
Rock, knew President or Mrs. Clinton.
Cunningham said that he never spoke with
either of the Clintons about the cases, and that
the two men are supporters of President Bush
and made no contributions to Mrs. Clinton's
"The work that I did had nothing to do with
my responsibilities as treasurer of the
campaign. In the light of day, I think there
was no conflict and no appearance of
conflict," Cunningham said.
On Friday, Harry Thomason, the
Hollywood producer and Clinton family
friend, said he pitched the idea for the two
men's pardons that ultimately were handled
The men were convicted in 1982 on
income tax fraud charges. They completed
their sentences in 1983 but sought pardons
because they were prohibited under Arkansas
law to hold liquor licenses and obtain
financing. They were also unable to obtain
See Also: The Clemency Page