WASHINGTON – Before leaving for the holidays, President Bush on Tuesday commuted the prison sentence of a drug offender and granted 19 pardons, including one to a man who helped the Jewish resistance in the 1940s.
With this latest batch, which includes forgiveness for convictions ranging from gun and drug violations to bank and mail fraud, Bush has granted a total of 191 pardons and nine commutations. That's fewer than half as many as Presidents Clinton or Reagan issued during their two terms.
Included in the latest list is Charles Winters, who is considered a hero in Israel.
Winters, who died in the 1980s in Florida, was in the airplane business after World War II. He bought up former military cargo planes and used them to transport fruit and other products. He later started helping his Jewish friends who were shipping arms to Jews trying to found their own state in the Middle East.
Winters, a Protestant from Boston, could fly his planes in and out of the region without interference from authorities. In 1948, three of his planes left Miami, picked up weapons in Azores and Czechoslovakia and then left the planes and arms in Palestine.
Winters was convicted of violating the Neutrality Act, fined $5,000 and sentenced to serve 18 months in prison. The act is designed to ensure that financial assistance and arms are not provided to parties in foreign conflicts where the U.S. has not taken sides.
Two others, Herman Greenspun and Al Schwimmer, also were convicted of violating the act, but they did not serve time. President Kennedy pardoned Greenspun in 1961. President Clinton pardoned Schwimmer in 2000.
Reginald Brown, an attorney who worked on the Winters pardon, said Bush's pardon "rights a historical wrong and honors Charlie's belief that the creation of the Jewish state was a moral imperative of his time. ... Charlie Winters helped shape human history for the better."
Film director Steven Spielberg wrote a letter to Bush appealing for a pardon for Winters.
"There are probably many unsung heroes of America and of Israel, but Charlie Winters is surely one of them," wrote the director of "Schindler's List" and other Oscar-winning movies. "While a pardon cannot make Charlie Winters whole, and regrettably he did not live to see it, it would be a fitting tribute to his memory and a great blessing to his family if this pardon is granted."
The only other pardon granted posthumously in recent years was given to Henry O. Flipper, the first black graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Flipper was drummed out of the Army after white officers accused him of embezzling about $3,800 from commissary funds. Flipper initially discovered the funds missing from his custody and concealed their disappearance from superiors, hoping the money would return.
He was court-martialed, acquitted of embezzlement but convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer, and dishonorably discharged. Flipper went on to a successful civilian career as an engineer and expert in Spanish and Mexican land law. He wrote several books and worked as a special assistant to the U.S. interior secretary. In 1976, an Army board commuted Flipper's dismissal to a good conduct discharge, concluding that his conviction and punishment were "unduly harsh and unjust." In 1999, Clinton granted him a full pardon.
In addition to Winters, others granted pardons were:
_William Alvis III, of Flushing, Ohio. Possession of an unregistered firearm and cocaine distribution.
_John Allen Aregood of Riviera, Texas. Conspiracy to harbor and transport illegal aliens.
_Eric Charles Blanke of Parker, Colo. Counterfeiting.
_Steve Doyle Cavender of The Villages, Fla. Conspiring to import, possess, distribute and dispense marijuana.
_Marie Elena Eppens of Lynden, Wash. Conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute marijuana.
_Lydia Lee Ferguson of Sun City, Ariz. Conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute marijuana.
_Eduviges Duvi Gonzalez-Matsumura of Clovis, Calif. Aiding and abetting embezzlement of bank funds.
_George Clarence Greene Jr. of Gray, Ga. Mail fraud.
_James Won Hee Kang of South Barrington, Ill. Trafficking in counterfeit goods.
_Alan Stephen Maiss of Reno, Nev.
_Richard Harold Miller of Tallahassee, Fla. Conspiracy to defraud the United States.
_Delano Abraham Nixon of Neosho Rapids, Kan. Forging the endorsement on a U.S. Treasury check.
_John H. Overholt of Black Hawk, S.D. Concealment of information affecting Social Security benefits.
_Morris Keith Parker of Georgetown, S.C.
_Robert Truman Reece of Redondo Beach, Calif.
_Donald Edward Roessler of Harrison, Ohio. Embezzlement of mail matter.
_Issac Robert Toussie of Brooklyn, N.Y. False statements to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and mail fraud.
_David Lane Woolsey of St. George, Utah. Aiding and abetting violation of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.
Bush also commuted the prison sentence of Reed Raymond Prior of Des Moines, Iowa.
Prior was convicted of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. He was sentenced in 1996 in the Southern District of Iowa to life in prison with 10 years of supervised release. His prison sentence is now set to expire on Feb. 23, 2009, but the terms of the commutation leave intact and in effect the 10 years of supervised release with all its conditions.
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