For 42 years, Ronald Foster didn’t know he had a felony conviction for cutting up pennies.
It seemed like a nickel-and-dime crime at the time. President Obama apparently agreed; last week he pardoned Foster and eight other people for unrelated crimes.
Foster stands out among the list of convicted thieves, drug dealers and users. In 1963, he was earning $82 a month as a Marine at Camp Lejeune, N.C., when he and 16 others hatched a scheme to cut pennies into dimes so they could use them in vending machines, he said.
“We cut the lip off, and we were using them in the barracks only, in the vending machines. Washing machines, cigarette machines, pop machines,” said Foster, 66, a retired mill worker from Beaver Falls, Pa.
“Back then, a pack of cigarettes cost 20 or 30 cents a pack, so you could get a pack for 3 cents,” he said, chuckling.
But the Secret Service caught them. They were marched into a courtroom on base, where their commanding officer entered a guilty plea on their behalf to mutilation of coins, he said.
Foster was sentenced to a year of probation and a $20 fine, and he thought the incident was over. He served in Vietnam the following year and left the Marine Corps a decade later to join the Pennsylvania National Guard. He got a job at a plant that manufactures ceilings near his home in Beaver Falls, married and had a son.
Then, in 2005, he applied for a gun permit and learned he had a felony conviction. He applied for a presidential pardon 18 months ago.
The others in the Obama administration’s first round of pardons were:
• James Bernard Banks of Liberty, Utah, sentenced in 1972 to two years’ probation for illegal possession of government property.
• Russell James Dixon of Clayton, Ga., sentenced in 1960 to two years’ probation for a felony liquor violation.
• Laurens Dorsey of Syracuse, N.Y., sentenced in 1998 to five years’ probation and required to pay $71,000 restitution for making false statements to the Food and Drug Administration.
• Timothy James Gallagher of Navasota, Texas, sentenced in 1982 to three years’ probation for possession and conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
• Roxane Kay Hettinger of Powder Springs, Ga., sentenced in 1986 to 30 days in jail and three years’ probation for conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
• Edgar Leopold Kranz Jr. of Minot, N.D., who received a bad conduct military discharge in 1994 for wrongful use of cocaine, adultery and writing three bad checks.
• Floretta Leavy of Rockford, Ill., sentenced in 1984 to one year and one day in prison for distribution and possession of cocaine, as well as possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.
• Scoey Lathaniel Morris of Crosby, Texas, sentenced in 1999 to three years’ probation and required to pay $1,200 in restitution for passing counterfeit obligations or securities.