Pardon for Subject of Inquiry Worries Prosecutors

Kurt Eichenwald and Michael Moss - NY Times - February 6, 2001

One of the 140 people pardoned last month by President Clinton was a businessman being investigated for new potential felonies. Now, some Justice Department officials arequestioning whether the president's broadly worded order could hamper their inquiry.

It is unclear if the pardon will affect the new case. But legal experts said a pardon of a felon who was also the subject of a criminal investigation was almost unheard of, since the intent of presidential clemency is usually to provide a fresh start to people who have mended their ways.

The pardon application by the businessman, Almon Glenn Braswell, was one of about two dozen last- minute requests that bypassed the traditional route through the Justice Department and went directly to the White House, government officials said.

The 57-year-old Mr. Braswell, who owns a mail-order vitamin and health-supplements business, was convicted in 1983 of mail-fraud and perjury stemming from false claims about the effectiveness of a treatment for baldness, and sentenced to three years in a federal prison.

For at least 16 months, he has been under investigation by the United States attorney's office in Los Angeles on accusations of tax evasion and money laundering involving the use of offshore corporations and accounts, according to documents and interviews.

Mr. Braswell did not return messages left at his home in Coconut Grove, Fla., and at his corporate offices in Marina Del Ray, Calif. Several lawyers for Mr. Braswell and his companies declined to comment or did not return calls.

Unlike some other individuals who were pardoned by Mr. Clinton, Mr. Braswell was not known as a donor to Democrats. In fact, he has been a significant contributor to the Republican Party, including the presidential campaign of George W. Bush.

The Republicans, however, returned tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from Mr. Braswell last year after disclosure of his 1983 convictions and other legal difficulties.

It is not clear how Mr. Braswell's application reached the White House. Former officials with the Clinton administration declined to provide details. Nor is it clear why Mr. Braswell sought the pardon, though in previous appeals to have his perjury conviction overturned, his lawyers have said it hurt his ability to conduct business.

But the pardon for Mr. Braswell raised concerns among some law enforcement officials because the document signed by President Clinton grants a full pardon, without specifying the crimes.

Had the application gone through the Justice Department, it would have delineated the crimes for which the pardon was being sought. Now, a Justice Department official said, the pardon office is struggling to determine how to word the document that provides the pardon.

"If I was his attorney, I would argue that the pardon covers the ongoing matter as well," said one Justice Department official.

A lawyer who has reviewed Mr. Braswell's pardon application said it referred only to the crimes he committed two decades ago, but officials said they were waiting for the formal pardon documents to interpret the legal implications.

Paul H. Rochmes, the assistant United States Attorney in charge of the current investigation in Los Angeles, declined to comment.

Legal experts called the pardon of Mr. Braswell, given the current investigation, highly unusual.

"That's very troubling, it's unheard of," John Stanish, the lawyer who handled pardons under President Jimmy Carter, said when told details of the case. "What it tells me is that there was a breakdown at the White House that allowed for people who had access to run in and get some favors out of the president."

  • See Also: The Clemency Page