Congress investigates crime boss claims of cash for Roger Clinton

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The Independent US

The pardons controversy that marred Bill Clinton's last days as American President resurfaced yesterday with the revelation that his brother received $50,000 (£36,000) from a heroin trafficker with Mafia links for whom he sought a pardon.

Congressional investigators are examining the payment to Roger Clinton made by the family of Rosario Gambino, an alleged associate of the Gambino crime family and said to be a relative of the legendary mob boss Carlo Gambino.

Mr Clinton's lawyer has confirmed that there was a payment, but refused to say what it was for.

Reports yesterday said that in late January, in the final days of Mr Clinton's presidency, the White House told the Justice Department that it was considering a pardon for Gambino. It even went as far as to request a background report on the drug dealer from the department. Mr Clinton did not issue a pardon for Gambino, currently serving a 45-year sentence.

Yesterday, The New York Times quoted a source close to the Gambino family as saying Roger Clinton had led them to believe that he could help Rosario obtain a presidential pardon. "Whatever he said to him made Tommy Gambino [Rosario's son] think it was a lock," the source said.

Bart Williams, the lawyer for Roger Clinton, said his client did make at least one effort to help obtain a pardon for 59-year-old Rosario, writing to the parole board two years ago. He strongly denied that the $50,000 payment was linked to any efforts to seek such a pardon.

"Tommy Gambino is a friend of Roger Clinton and has been for many years," he said. "I'm not going to comment on what the payment is for or about. I am going to say it was not related to Roger Clinton's assisting of Tommy Gambinos's father in his parole efforts or any other efforts."

The revelation will be a further embarrassment to the former president, who issued 177 pardons in his final days in office. Investigators have been looking into Roger Clinton's possible selling of pardons ever since a convicted fraudster, Garland Lincecum, claimed he had paid $225,000 (£160,000) to the former president's brother for a pardon he never received.

Roger Clinton – the recipient of a presidential pardon by his brother for a 1985 conviction of cocaine dealing – has always denied he tried to sell pardons. He sought pardons for six "dear friends"; these were refused.

Yesterday, a spokesman for the House Committee on Government Reform, one of the bodies investigating Roger Clinton, said: "We have posed questions to Roger Clinton and we did ask about a $50,000 payment from a company owned by the family of Rosario Gambino, who is serving a lengthy prison sentence for heroin traffic." Rosario Gambino, from New Jersey, was convicted in 1984 for his role in selling two pounds of heroin to undercover investigators.

Hehas made several appeals against his sentence. He was convicted in absentia 20 years ago for drug dealing by the Italian authorities, who are trying to extradite him now he is eligible for parole.

Some observers yesterday questioned the timing of the leaks from the latest investigation into Roger Clinton, pointing out that it plays into the hands of the American President, George Bush, currently floundering with much of his legislative programme.