President Barack Obama pardoned two convicts represented by a prominent Chicago-area lawyer who contributed to Obama’s presidential and Senate campaigns and crossed paths with him during his early political career, records reveal.
Obama granted 17 presidential pardons Friday, including to Illinois businesspeople Jon Kozeliski and Karen Ragee, both of whom were convicted in the early 1990s for felony conspiracy to traffic counterfeit goods. Kozeliski and Ragee reportedly screened and sold counterfeit Gucci sweaters at a shopping mall.
J. Steven Beckett, the Urbana, Illinois-based attorney who represents Kozeliski and Ragee, contributed $1,000 to Obama’s 2004 Senate campaign and $1,000 to Obama’s first presidential campaign. Beckett has also contributed to Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin.
Beckett is the founder of the Urbana law firm Beckett & Webber, a law professor at the University of Illinois, and was a member of the Champaign County Board when Obama was a state senator seeking to move up to the U.S. Senate.
“I’ve met [Obama] here at the University of Illinois a couple of times when he was running for Senate. I was on the county board here,” Beckett told The Daily Caller. “So I crossed paths with him informally, just at political events. But he’s not going to call me by my first name.”
At the time of their convictions, “Kozeliski was sentenced to one year of probation with six months of home confinement and was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine,” and “Ragee was sentenced to one year of probation with six months of home confinement and was ordered to pay a $2,500 fine,” The News-Gazette reports. The pardons will allow them to apply for a firearms license, run for certain offices and pursue other activities their convictions had barred them from.
Beckett told TheDC that he was completely surprised by the pardons, which he first applied for on behalf of his clients more than four years ago.
“We deliberately filed the pardons late in President [George W.] Bush’s administration,” Beckett said. “We thought that there was a chance he would look at them as he left office. But we were wrong because he didn’t. The only thing he did, I think, was he commuted Scooter Libby’s sentence.”
“I thought President Obama might have a different view of the pardon process,” Beckett said, adding that he was frustrated by the Obama administration’s lack of attention to the matter during Obama’s first term and he had “given up hope” for the pardons.
“If you look at the number of pardon applications, and the number of pardons granted, the number is very small,” Beckett said.
Obama did not give a reason for the pardons.