President Commutes Sentence of Woman Charged,
but Not Tried, in Brink's Robbery

Edward Wong with Sherri Day - NY Times - January 21, 2001

A former terrorist who was caught with 740 pounds of dynamite and weapons in New Jersey, the fugitive ex-husband of a Manhattan socialite who is a close friend of former President Clinton, and four men who stole tens of millions of dollars from the federal government by creating a phony school for Jewish students were among about a dozen people from the New York area who were pardoned or had their prison sentences commuted yesterday by Mr. Clinton.

As one of his last official acts, Mr. Clinton released a list of almost 140 people to whom he had granted pardons, which restore civil rights like voting, or commutations, which shorten prison terms.

Many of the people from the metropolitan area were white-collar criminals who had committed financial fraud or similar acts, including Marc Rich, a commodities trader wanted for evading nearly $50 million in taxes. Mr. Rich's ex-wife, Denise Rich, was the host at a sumptuous Democratic Party fund-raising dinner last fall that was attended by President Clinton. Mr. Rich has been hiding in Switzerland since 1983.

The most controversial local case involves Susan L. Rosenberg, a former member of the Weather Underground who had been denied parole in a New Jersey explosives and weapons case because of charges brought against her in the 1981 armed robbery of a Brink's armored car. That heist left two police officers and a security guard dead.

Surrounded by friends, Ms. Rosenberg walked out of the Danbury Correctional Facility in Danbury, Conn., yesterday after a letter signed by Mr. Clinton was delivered to the warden in the early afternoon, said her lawyer, Howard Gutman.

Ms. Rosenberg, who was serving a 58-year sentence for the unrelated New Jersey case, was indicted but never tried in the Brink's robbery.

In 1998, she was eligible for release, but the government denied her parole even though she was considered a model prisoner. Officials said there was evidence she was involved in the Brink's robbery in Nanuet, N.Y., as well as in other crimes. She was ordered to remain in custody for 15 more years.

"Susan's additional 15 years of incarceration exposed many of the flaws in the unfettered discretion of the parole board," Mr. Gutman said yesterday. "The president's action vindicates the concept that no American should be imprisoned on charges for which they were never tried or convicted. We couldn't be more delighted."

But the office of Mary Jo White, the United States attorney in Manhattan, had argued fiercely to keep Ms. Rosenberg in prison, citing evidence that she had been involved in the Brink's robbery and other crimes. That office prosecuted several of the cases in which the convicts were pardoned or had sentences commuted yesterday.

Ms. White expressed disappointment at President Clinton's actions.

"Recognizing that clemency decisions are a matter of presidential prerogative, the facts of several of these cases raise significant law enforcement concerns," she said through a spokesman. "The seriousness of the crimes is diminished, and the fact and the appearance of even- handed justice is compromised."

Ms. White would not comment on specific cases.

Ms. Rosenberg has always denied any involvement in the Brink's robbery and the other crimes cited by the parole commission. Prosecutors dropped those charges against her because she was already serving a lengthy prison sentence in the New Jersey case.

In 1999, Ms. Rosenberg asked Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. of Federal District Court in Manhattan to either release her or reinstate the Brink's conspiracy charges and then dismiss them outright. Last year, Judge Haight wrote that that was beyond his power.

Ms. Rosenberg was arrested in November 1984, when she and a companion, Timothy A. Blunk, were caught unloading 740 pounds of dynamite and weapons, including a submachine gun, from their car off Interstate 295 in Cherry Hill, N.J. She admitted that she was planning to supply the explosives to others for bombings and has apologized for the crime.

But at the time, Ms. Rosenberg was also wanted for fleeing while under indictment for charges that included federal racketeering and bank robbery.

The indictment covered the Oct. 20, 1981, attack on the Brink's truck by a band of people that included members of the Weather Underground and the Black Liberation Army. The security guard was killed in the Nanuet Mall, and the two police officers were killed in a roadblock shootout. The robbers took $1.6 million. Federal investigations later showed that Ms. Rosenberg lived for a year in New Haven with Marilyn Jean Buck, the driver of the getaway car.

In the explosives case, Ms. Rosenberg was convicted in 1985 of eight counts of possessing explosives, weapons and fake identification cards. She was sentenced to 58 years in prison. The length of the sentence gave Rudolph W. Giuliani, then the United States attorney, reason to drop the charges in the Brink's robbery. Ms. Rosenberg objected at the time, but to no avail.

Mr. Blunk, who was not involved in the Brink's robbery, was paroled after 12 years.

While in prison, Ms. Rosenberg developed AIDS programs for prisoners, counseled troubled inmates and worked in the prison chapel and library, a prison official said. That official told the parole commission that he considered Ms. Rosenberg "a perfect example of one who has truly changed."

Ms. Rosenberg contended that the government had robbed her of due process by keeping her in prison on charges that were never brought to trial. Yesterday, her lawyer, Mr. Gutman, said that "she has served her time and will be a productive member of society."

The sentence of another convict associated with both Ms. Rosenberg and the Brink's robbery, Linda Sue Evans, was also commuted by Mr. Clinton. In 1990, Ms. Evans was sentenced in United States District Court in Washington to five years in prison for conspiracy and malicious destruction in connection with eight bombings between 1983 and 1985, including one at the Capitol. Ms. Rosenberg and Mr. Blunk had been brought up on the same charges. At the time, Ms. Evans had already been sentenced to 40 years in prison for using false identification to buy firearms and harboring a fugitive.

In another case, a close friend of Mr. Giuliani, William D. Fugazy, a former transportation executive from the New York area, was pardoned by Mr. Clinton. In 1997, he pleaded guilty to perjury during a bankruptcy proceeding.

Four convicts from New York whose sentences were commuted had used federal grants and loans to finance a fictitious and lucrative yeshiva in Brooklyn in the late 1980's and early '90's. The men, Kalmen Stern, Jacobs Elbaum and Benjamin Berger, all from a community of Hasidic Jews in Rockland County, and David Goldstein, of Brooklyn, were convicted in January 1999 of charges that included fraud and embezzlement.

Prosecutors said the four had collected tens of millions of dollars in federal grants and loans, which they were ordered to repay in fines. The commutation reduced each man's prison sentence to 30 months. Their original sentences had ranged from two to seven years in prison.

"The punishment did not fit the crime," one of their lawyers, Charles Stillman, said yesterday, "and so the act of commuting the sentence is an act of compassion and decency."

  • See Also: The Clemency Page