Dale Critz, Jr., an heir to a luxury car dealership fortune in Savannah, GA, was posed to take over the family business. The one snag? Many automakers won’t let felons own their franchises. And Critz had a dark history – he pleaded guilty in 1989 to a felony conviction thanks to his part in a scheme to falsify loan documents for low-income car buyers at a Florida dealership.
So in late 2000, Critz embarked on a campaign for forgiveness. He enlisted the help of Republican Rep. Jack Kingston, a family friend, Georgia neighbor, and regular recipient of political donations from Critz and his family.
Over the next six years, Kingston personally pressed for Critz’s pardon, writing the Justice Department and twice calling the top pardon official, Roger Adams. Adams’s recommendations are first seen by the deputy attorney general and then sent to the White House for the president’s approval or denial. In Critz’s case, the deputy opposed the pardon, noting that Critz had lied on his pardon application and to the FBI during his background check, and the recommendation did not go to the White House.
The main opposition to Critz’s potential pardon, however, vanished when a new deputy attorney general was convinced to let the pardon go through. In Dec. 2006, President George W. Bush pardoned Critz. And he wasn’t alone.
Since 2000, a total of 196 members of Congress — 126 Republicans and 70 Democrats — have written to the pardons office on behalf of more than 200 donors and constituents, according to copies of their letters obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
A statistical analysis of nearly 500 pardon applicants during the Bush administration suggests that advocacy makes a difference. Applicants with a member of Congress in their corner were three times as likely to win a pardon as those without such backing.
What’s the best way to win a lawmaker’s support? Money, of course.
Critz’s family gave Kingston $10,100 before he applied for pardon, and has since donated an additional $13,050 to the congressman. Donations on behalf of felons looking for pardon flow to both parties. President Bill Clinton’s eleventh-hour pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich famously sparked a controversy in 2001 thanks in part to Rich’s ex-wife’s big donations to the Clinton Presidential Library and the Democratic National Committee.
Critz, who also has been convicted for drunk driving, was called an “exemplary citizen” by Kingston in a 2003 letter.
In this case, perhaps “exemplary” is a synonym for “rich?”