The controversy surrounding former President Clinton's last-minute pardons continues to deepen as a federal prosecutor investigates his decision to commute the sentences of four New York men convicted of swindling millions of dollars in government money by setting up a phony religious school.
ABCNEWS has also learned that Clinton's half brother Roger lobbied the White House for a number of clemency grants in the closing days of the administration.
The new revelations come just days after the news that Hugh Rodham, brother of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, was paid some $400,000 for his successful efforts to win a pardon for Almon Glenn Braswell, a businessman who was under investigation for money laundering, and a commutation for convicted drug trafficker Carlos Vignali.
ABCNEWS has learned that, despite urgings from the Clintons to do so, not all of the money has been returned yet. However, Rodham is taking steps to ensure that the $400,000 will be paid back in full.
Commutations for New York Men Questioned
Sources tell ABCNEWS that Mary Jo White, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, is now probing the commutations granted by Clinton on his final day as president to Benjamin Berger, Jacob Elbaum, David Goldstein and Kalmen Stern — four Hasidic men who used a fictitious Jewish school to defraud the government of millions of dollars in education grants.
White opened an investigation into Clinton pardons last week after it was revealed that the ex-wife of Marc Rich, a fugitive billionaire whom Clinton freed from prosecution on his last day as president, gave some $1.5 million to Democratic Party causes.
All four of the New York men are from the Hasidic village of New Square, which voted overwhelmingly for the former first lady in her successful Senate run last year. Suspicions were raised that Clinton freed them from prison as a kind of favor in return or that there was a quid pro quo swap of votes for clemency. But ABCNEWS has learned that prosecutors now want to know if money — perhaps political contributions — played any role in Clinton's decision.
"It is tough to make votes fit as 'something of value' under the bribery statute," said one Justice Department source.
Sen. Clinton has acknowledged joining the president at a meeting with two leaders from the community at the White House last December, but denies playing any role in the clemency grants.
Sources tell ABCNEWS Roger Clinton pressed the White House to grant pardons for a number of friends and acquaintances. It is not known whether he spoke to the president directly, but the sources said Clinton knew of his brother's interest in certain pardon applications.
Clinton spokeswoman Julia Payne said the president turned down all of the clemency requests and maintains Roger Clinton, unlike Rodham, was never paid for his efforts.
"Roger did ask the president to consider a list of less than 10 names of friends and acquaintances," Payne told The Associated Press. "None of those pardons were granted nor did he receive any money."
Still, the House Government Reform Committee, which had already launched an inquiry into Clinton's pardon of Rich and Rodham's involvement in the Braswell and Vignali cases, is now investigating whether Roger Clinton was involved in the clemency applications of the two men, as well as two others who were granted pardons and one who was not.