Former President Clinton’s pardon of accused billionaire tax-cheat Marc Rich reeks like a quart of month-old milk. Democrats hate it. Even Hillary! (D., NY) sputtered when reporters inquired about her husband’s misdeed. “I have no opinion,” she replied. “I had no opinion before. I had no opinion at the time. I have no opinion now.”
While federal prosecutors, congressional sleuths, and journalists wade through the Rich outrage, they also should scrutinize some of the 36 commutations and 139 other pardons Clinton signed just two hours before he left office. Some of these clemencies benefited rehabilitated convicts and those who never deserved prison. But many recipients of Clinton’s mercy compose a virtual perp walk of wiseguys, felons, and frauds.
Take Dorothy Rivers, who pled guilty in April 1997 to a 40-count theft and tax evasion indictment. Rivers pocketed $1.3 million in federal HUD grants and moneys from the Illinois and Chicago governments. Officials entrusted Rivers with these funds to shelter homeless families and assist pregnant teenage girls. Instead, Rivers used these taxpayer dollars to bankroll her opulent lifestyle.
Rivers’ chauffeur drove her to Neiman Marcus where she dropped $800 on a purse and $35,000 on a sable coat. She underwrote her son’s Mercedes-Benz. As Bob Port of the New York Daily News reported, Rivers spent $250,000 to launch Chi-Sounds, a record company with Carl Davis, the producer of the doo-wop hit, “Duke of Earl.” Fittingly, one local boutique owner nicknamed the extravagant Rivers “Duchess.”
Rivers also assigned a costumed Santa Claus to cruise Chicago in a limousine and hand-deliver invitations to her Christmas bash. Guests received glasses of champagne along with their party announcements. The soiree itself featured sparkling wine cascading from a six-foot-high glass.
Dorothy Rivers ripped off homeless families to finance chauffeurs and champagne. This is precisely how liberals have caricatured conservatives since Ronald Reagan’s “Decade of Greed.” Rather than let this crook rot in jail, the leader of the Party of the Downtrodden sliced 20 months from her five year, 10 month sentence.
Why? As Rep. Bobby Rush (D., Ill.) wrote President Clinton last November 27, “Dorothy has been a loyal and hard-working member of the Democratic party…” She also hosted Democratic fund-raisers and served on the Management Oversight Committee of Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH.
“There’s no way, given the extent and nature of her crimes, that any one ever would find her qualified for clemency,” a former federal official close to this case told me. “She never has expressed any remorse. Ever since her sentence, she has tried to undo her guilty plea.”
Carlos Vignali won a commutation after serving six years of a 15-year sentence for distributing 800 pounds of cocaine from California to Minnesota, where it was sold as crack. Why the kid-glove treatment from the Comeback Kid? As the Los Angeles Times explained, Vignali’s father, Horacio, is a generous political donor. Since his son’s autumn 1994 trial, the elder Vignali has made $160,000 in political donations, some to Republicans but most to Democratic campaign committees and elected officials including Rep. Xavier Becerra (D., Calif. ), one of several Democratic lawmakers who wrote the White House on Vignali’s behalf.
President Clinton pardoned Charles Wilfred Morgan III, an Arkansan who spent three years in jail for cocaine distribution in the 1980s. Morgan’s lawyer was former Clinton White House counsel William Kennedy III. Morgan’s stepfather, George Billingsley, donated $42,200 to Democrats in the 1990s. Did these contributions facilitate the pardon? Billingsley told the Wall Street Journal: “You’d like to think…that it had some influence.”
Palm Beach attorney Arnold Paul Prosperi evaded taxes on $3 million he embezzled from clients. President Clinton commuted his three-year sentence before Prosperi, free on bond, spent even a night in the slammer. Clinton’s old college pal donated $45,000 to the preservationist White House Historical Association. Prosperi is suspected of embezzling this sum, too.
Manhattan attorney Harvey Weinig pleaded guilty in September 1995 to laundering $19 million in cash for the Cali cocaine cartel. In 1994, the Daily News’ Greg B. Smith reports, Weinig was involved in the kidnapping of a businessman who owed money to the drug ring. President Clinton commuted Weinig’s 11-year, three-month sentence, springing him five and a half years early.
Bill Clinton’s soft spot for hardened criminals is a national disgrace. Appallingly, Marc Rich is just the start of it. These and other cases constitute vending-machine politics: private money in, public favors out. Equal justice under law? Pardon me for laughing.