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.
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.
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.