4 Californians Among Those Pardoned by President


When the tax man came down on him, Robert E. Radke lost big.

An attorney by trade, Radke was convicted of willfully attempting to evade income taxes and was sentenced in 1981 to community service and a hefty fine.

For many, that would have been the end of it. But it didn’t sit right with Radke, then at the tail end of his career. Convinced he had been wronged, Radke set off to clear his name.

Now a plucky 82, Radke last week got the good news he’s been seeking for more than a decade. He was among 33 Americans, including three others in California cases, recently given a presidential pardon for past crimes.

When a reporter called his Van Nuys house with the news, Radke politely excused himself, put the phone down and let out a gleeful “Yeeehoo!”

“I feel vindicated,” Radke said, his voice a bit husky with emotion. “Being 82 years old and retired, I have no intention or any need or want to make much of anything out of it. This is for me.”


The California cases also included Haig Ardash Arakelian, a San Diego County man convicted in 1975 of marijuana possession as a teenager. Darrin Paul Sobin, who now lives in Washington, D.C., but was sentenced a decade ago in Sacramento County for conspiracy to cultivate pot, also received a presidential pardon. Vincent Anthony Burgio, a 64-year-old retired masonry contractor from Canoga Park, was pardoned for possessing counterfeit cash back in the early 1970s.

“It was a very nice Christmas present,” said Burgio, who served three years probation for his mistake. “I’m happy that I received it. Now, let’s go on with life.”

Nationwide, among those issued pardons by President Clinton were a car thief, a woman convicted of embezzlement, a Korean War veteran who went AWOL and a variety of people nabbed for drug crimes. Clinton, who faces a Senate trial on impeachment charges that he lied under oath and obstructed justice in the Monica Lewinsky investigation, also pardoned three people for lying to government agencies or to a bank.

All navigated an arduous process to win a measure of vindication from the president. In a typical year, more than 200 people apply for federal forgiveness of wrongdoings. Justice Department officials, while not commenting on the details of individual cases, say that only about one in 10 is graced with a pardon.

Historically, presidents have handed out pardons around the holiday season. Clinton has had more than 1,200 people apply for pardons and granted 107 in his six years in office. Ronald Reagan was more generous, offering about 380 pardons in his two terms.

The notion of executive mercy traces back to Greek and Roman law. The English monarchy picked up on it in the 7th century, but it was often abused as a tool of political aggrandizement.

Despite such origins, framers of the U.S. Constitution embraced the practice for America’s president. It remains, according to the authoritative Encyclopedia of the American Presidency, “at once the most imperial and delicate of the president’s powers.”

George Washington first used it to give amnesty to participants in the Whiskey Rebellion. And presidents ever since have followed suit. At times, it has generated heated controversy, from the post-Civil War relief given Jefferson Davis and the Confederate soldiers to the unconditional pardon of Richard Nixon after the Watergate scandal.

But generally it is the little man or woman, and almost always perpetrators of nonviolent crimes, who benefits from presidential leniency.

“It is basically an act of forgiveness,” said Chris Watney, a U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman. “It does not wipe your record clean, but it does restore certain rights.”

Those rights can range from the ability to buy a licensed firearm to serving in the military. A pardon also can improve chances in a job search. One recipient this year was a Seattle man convicted in 1989 of setting off explosives. The pardon will allow him to fulfill his dream of flying search-and-rescue missions for the Washington state Civil Air Patrol.

Applicants must wait five years after their conviction before submitting a request to the Justice Department’s pardon division. They must serve their sentence, demonstrate that their crimes are well behind them and prove they have become a productive member of society.

Aside from lengthy written applications, the FBI conducts scrupulous interviews of both the erstwhile perpetrator and several people who act as character references.

Radke said he put in his bid for a presidential pardon more than a decade ago. For him, it was nothing short of an attempt at redemption.

He had started in law as a prosecutor, been married for 57 years, lived in the same house for decades. In short, Radke considered himself a law-abiding, solid citizen, not the tax cheat the IRS said he was.

Though typically an applicant must show remorse for their crime, Radke felt he was bulldozed by the IRS and wanted to get a pardon to prove, to himself more than anyone else, that he had done no wrong.

Though fuzzy on the specifics, Radke says the IRS case against him boiled down to a disagreement over how much he owed.

“They did their computing wrong and I protested,” he said, declining to reveal the size of his tax burden. “But you don’t often win with them, especially in those days.”

He was sentenced to three years probation, 1,000 hours of community service and a $10,000 fine. As much as he disagreed, Radke paid the penalty and fulfilled his obligation by spending week after week doing pro bono law work for the destitute. His penance performed, he continued with his law career before retiring.

Whatever the facts of the case, Radke says today, “I worked my way out of it.”