For Clinton investigators, Roger is the gift that keeps on giving. Last week, the House Government Reform Committee wrote him asking about his role in clemency pleas made by six convicted felons, including Rosario Gambino, a jailed New Jersey restauranteur reputed to be a soldier in the Gambino crime family. Committee documents show that Rosario Gambino's daughter wrote a $50,000 check to one of Roger Clinton's companies in September, 1999, some months after Roger sought leniency from the U.S. Parole Commission for Rosario, who is serving a 45-year sentence for heroin trafficking.
More than a year ago, sources told TIME, the FBI learned of Clinton's efforts with the parole board. Suspicious of his motives, agents wanted to set up a sting operation. Members of the Clinton-appointed Parole Commission are said to have asked Justice Department officials to nix the FBI probe. The Department refused, but that investigation petered out anyway.
In Bill Clinton's final days in office last January, a White House lawyer included Rosario Gambino on a list of pardon candidates to be screened by the Justice Department, documents show. No pardon was granted. But at least Gambino the former owner of Valentino's Supper Club of Garden City, N.J. seems to have been considered for a pardon. The White House Counsel's office included Gambino's name on a list of pardoned candidates to be sent to the DOJ for criminal background checks. That's more than a handful of other convicts whose lawyers or relatives sought help from Roger Clinton got out of their deals.
One of them was J.T. Lundy, former head of the famous Calumet Farms who was sentenced last year to 4 1/2 years in prison for bank fraud. Lundy had given Roger Clinton a job at his Kentucky race horse stud farm after Clinton served a prison term in the 1980s for dealing cocaine. By late 1999, Lundy began asking Clinton for help even before his trial began. Sources told TIME he suggested Roger try to help delay legal action until the final days of the Clinton presidency, a time in which presidents usually grant pardons.
Lundy offered to reward Roger Clinton with stock in a Venezuelan coal deal, sources told TIME. To protect Clinton from discovery of the payment and assure it remained tax free, the sources said, Lundy suggested to Clinton in November, 1999 that Lundy would transfer the stock to a mutual friend, Dan R. Lasater, a Little Rock financier who was convicted in the mid-1980s for buying drugs from Roger Clinton. The House committee has obtained records showing that Clinton deposited in his bank $100,000 in travelers checks on Nov. 30, 1999, with some of the checks purchased in Venezuela.
Lundy's lawyer, David McGee, told TIME his client had no Venezuelan coal interests to transfer. But a source close to Lundy said a group of his friends from Kentucky did, and Lundy hoped they would facilitate a deal with the president's brother. Roger Clinton's lawyer, Bart Williams, said his client never received payment from Lundy and never recommended him for a pardon. Lasater refused comment.
As the days of the Clinton presidency dwindled, Roger Clinton was in great demand by pardon seekers. Lawyers for two of them shipped documents to Roger Clinton at the White House in care of the usher's office, sources said. Neither of them received clemency.
The House committee is not the only investigative body interested in Roger Clinton and pardons. The office of U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White is examining allegations by a Texas family that they paid two associates of Roger Clinton, George Locke and Dickey Morton, more than $200,000 in late 1998 to have Roger secure a pardon for a relative. Business sources say White also is focusing on a firm, CLM for Clinton, Locke & Morton and the activities of Locke and Morton. Sources said they invoked Roger Clinton's name to line up investors for a scheme to import wallboard, scooters and other products from China. Their pitch: Roger is "the president's man in China," two sources told TIME. Locke and Morton have claimed their Fifth Amendment right not to talk to investigators.
A California businessman, Davey Crockett (distantly related to the frontiersman, he says), took the pair to China in 1999 to set up a wallboard exporting business. When they had trouble making connections there, they called Roger Clinton on more than one occasion hoping he could open doors for them, sources said; Clinton was supposed to join them but in the end didn't show up.
Roger Clinton's lawyer, Bart Williams, said that his client "has never received any money in connection with a pardon request," though he has received funds from people who have separately asked such favors. Clinton recommended six people for pardons, all of whom were denied, Williams noted.
Roger may be keeping up the Clinton tradition of ethical vagaries. But it's not clear that any of his activities are illegal. That was the conclusion of a high-level Justice Department meeting late last year involving Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, independent counsel Robert Ray, and top FBI officials, sources told TIME. They'd been investigating various allegations about the trouble-prone half brother, but concluded that there wasn't enough evidence to proceed. Justice Department officials told the FBI to feel free to present new material if it turned up.
All they had to do was wait.