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Would you pardon them?

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In eight years as President, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton each issued roughly 400 pardons. But in their final days, just 10 trickled out of Reagan's White House, while 177 flooded out of Clinton's. And Marc Rich's pardon isn't the only one that appalled federal prosecutors. While most of the 177 were for minor drug and fraud offenses, roughly a third raise serious questions. A TIME analysis of the pardon fever--the symptoms included well-connected lawyers and pols pulling strings, bypassing the Justice Department and sending petitions directly to the White House, often at the last minute--turned up these eye-popping remissions of sin.

The Big Apple Gang

U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White is furious at Clinton for several New York cases. In 1993 and '94, Harvey Weinig, 53, helped launder at least $19 million for the Cali drug cartel. Justice strongly opposed his petition, but Clinton commuted Weinig's 11-year sentence--cutting it in half--and now he is scheduled to be set free. Last week White released documents showing Weinig was also involved in a kidnapping plot. Former White House aide David Dreyer, a relative of Weinig's, told TIME he asked Clinton chief of staff John Podesta and former White House counsel Beth Nolan for the commutation "as an act of mercy."

Edward Downe Jr., a publishing and financial executive, pleaded guilty to insider trading in 1993. He was sentenced to three years' probation, and paid $11 million in fines. Downe has contributed $21,500 to Democrats since 1991, including $1,000 to Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign. His application went straight to Clinton, and White's office learned about it only the night before his pardon.

William Fugazy, a friend of Mario Cuomo's, was known as the limo king of New York until he landed in bankruptcy court in 1997. Convicted of hiding $75 million from creditors, he was sentenced to two years' probation. Justice rejected his petition last year because guidelines require applicants to wait for five years after conviction. Clinton ignored the guidelines.

The Radicals

White is also upset about the commutation Clinton gave to Susan Rosenberg, who was convicted in 1984 of carrying explosives and weapons for the Weather Underground. One of Rosenberg's guns was bought with fake ID by Linda Sue Evans, who also took part in the 1983 bombing of an empty room at the U.S. Capitol to protest the invasion of Grenada. Clinton's order freed both from prison.

The Protester

During a 1970 protest at St. Louis University, Howard Mechanic lobbed a cherry bomb at police and firefighters. He fled to Arizona and began a new life as a businessman. But his secret came out when he ran for the Scottsdale city council last year, and he went to federal prison. His successful pardon application drew support from several Senators. But in Clinton's haste to process so many pleas, he signed a pardon letter that contained a typo and ended up clearing Mechanic of the wrong charge.

Connections Pay

Jesse Jackson personally appealed to Clinton to commute the sentence of Melvin Reynolds, a former Illinois Congressman serving seven years for corruption and for having sex with an underage campaign worker. Other Jackson associates who received clemency include John H. Bustamante, 70, a former adviser who pleaded guilty to fraud in 1993, and Dorothy Rivers, a former Operation PUSH official serving six years for embezzling more than a million dollars in federal aid for homeless children. She will be freed from prison next year.

Former Arizona Governor John Fife Symington sent his application directly to the White House three weeks before Clinton left office. In 1997 the Republican was convicted of fraud and forced out of office. The verdict was overturned, but prosecutors have been weighing whether to retry the case. Some Arizonans think the pardon was payback: Symington saved Clinton from drowning at a '60s beach party.

So Does Cash

After Carlos Vignali, 30, was sentenced to 14 years for cocaine trafficking in 1994, his father took an interest in politics, donating more than $150,000 to Democratic causes, including $10,000 to the 2000 Democratic National Committee. Letters of support from several leading California pols and a Roman Catholic Cardinal helped persuade Clinton to commute Vignali's sentence. Angry prosecutors call Vignali a drug kingpin; defenders say he was just a minor player.

Oops, He Did It Again

Almon Glenn Braswell, a Florida multimillionaire who donated to both George W. Bush and the Florida G.O.P., was pardoned for a 1983 conviction on perjury and tax-evasion charges stemming from selling dubious health products. Problem is, he's still under investigation for money laundering and more tax evasion. His application bypassed Justice, which helps explain why no one in the White House knew. He could be prosecuted for the alleged new offenses.

Friends and Family

Henry Cisneros, the former HUD Secretary, was convicted of lying to the FBI about payments to a mistress. His mistress, Linda Medlar Jones, was pardoned as well; neither application went through Justice.

Florida attorney Arnold Prosperi, 52, faced three years in prison for tax fraud. Prosperi managed Clinton's 1967 campaign for student-council president at Georgetown University. Clinton commuted his sentence to house arrest.

Richard Riley Jr., was sentenced in 1992 to house arrest and probation on cocaine and marijuana charges. His father Richard Riley was Clinton's Education Secretary.

Roger Clinton, the President's brother, served one year on cocaine charges.

Former CIA Director John Deutch just a day before the pardon agreed to plead guilty to improperly storing classified materials on his home computer.



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Cover Date: February 26, 2001

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