- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2001

Federal prosecutors say President Clinton, under fire for his last-minute clemency orders, ignored them in commuting the prison sentence of a top Democratic Party loyalist who stole millions of dollars from the homeless, handicapped children and pregnant teens.

"We were never asked for any input, and so we provided none. We were not aware that this was being considered," said Randy Sanborn, spokesman for U.S. Attorney James B. Burns in Chicago.

Mr. Sanborn declined to elaborate, but attorneys close to the 1997 prosecution of Dorothy Rivers, former executive director of the nonprofit Chicago Mental Health Foundation and a top official of the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/ PUSH Coalition, said prosecutors were "blindsided" by the Jan. 20 commutation and "outraged" they were never contacted.

They questioned whether the commutation had more to do with Mrs. Rivers' ties to the Democratic Party and prominent party officials than to the merits of the case. Her clemency request was not reviewed by the Justice Department, but instead went directly to the White House.

Mrs. Rivers pleaded guilty to stealing $1.2 million in government grants following a 40-count indictment on charges of fraud, theft, tax evasion, obstruction and making false statements. She used the money to buy, among other things, a $35,000 fur coat, expensive gifts, clothes for a live-in boyfriend, landscaping, a record company and a Mercedes-Benz for her son.

She also admitted using the cash to hire a chauffeur to regularly take her to upscale stores and trendy boutiques, and to throw extravagant parties, which she charged off as consulting fees. At one party, she used grant money for a 6-foot bubbling champagne glass.

Mrs. Rivers also acknowledged using government funds for political donations and to make mortgage payments on her six-unit Chicago apartment and a lakefront home in Michigan.

"She never showed any remorse. In fact, she never actually admitted her guilt and even said in court she never intended to plead guilty. She was not an appropriate candidate for clemency, and there is no good reason why she got it," said one lawyer, noting the evidence clearly showed she stole millions of taxpayer dollars from the needy for her personal use.

The commutation order was urged by several prominent members of Chicago's black community, led by Rep. Bobby L. Rush, Illinois Democrat. Mr. Rush, former member of the Black Panther Party and a Chicago alderman for nine years, told Mr. Clinton in a letter, "Dorothy has been a loyal and hardworking member of the Democratic Party," noting she served as an alternate delegate to the 1992 Democratic National Convention.

Citing assistance to his office and to Mr. Jackson, Mr. Rush urged her "prompt release," saying she had been honored repeatedly for her contributions to the city and the Democratic Party, where she was considered a major fund-raiser.

Mr. Rush's spokeswoman, Robyn Wheeler, said the office had no comment on the commutation order.

Despite the congressman's pleas on Mrs. Rivers' behalf, those familiar with her case remain adamant in their opposition to the commutation.

"This was an important prosecution that took an incredibly long time to develop, including the review of more than 10,000 bank records," said another lawyer close to the case. "It took years for prosecutors to unravel what she had done and the fact she was an alternate to the 1992 Democratic National Convention is not reason enough to grant her clemency."

"What kind of message does this send?" the lawyer asked.

Julia Payne, spokeswoman for Mr. Clinton, dismissed the concerns, saying the former president was contacted by many people regarding the 140 pardons and 36 commutations he ordered on Inauguration Day and they were approved based on the merits "regardless of who brought them or who they were."

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah A. Devaney, who headed the Rivers prosecution, declined to comment on the commutation order. Ironically, Miss Devaney helped prosecute 16 Puerto Rican terrorists offered clemency in 1999 by Mr. Clinton a month after the Justice Department said in a report their release from prison posed a threat to U.S. national security.

Mrs. Rivers, 69, has not been available for comment. Her attorney, Walter Jones Jr., declined to discuss the case, saying only "the record speaks for itself." But he acknowledged that after the sentencing that he "had a very difficult time getting Dorothy to live up to her contract" regarding the payment of his legal fees.

After extensive testimony at an April 1997 trial, Mrs. Rivers entered an unusual "Alford" guilty plea, admitting that prosecutors had enough evidence to prove her guilty of fraud, theft and tax evasion while professing her innocence.

The plea acknowledged her misappropriation of $1.2 million in government grants for her personal use and for family and friends. The government had charged Mrs. Rivers with stealing more than $5 million in federal and state grant money.

She faced more than 10 years in prison, although in November 1997 she received the least amount of time allowed under federal guidelines five years and 10 months. Mr. Clinton's Inauguration Day commutation reduced that sentence to time served about three years.

Mr. Jones, after the guilty plea, asked the court for a light sentence, saying his client suffered from "significantly reduced mental capacity." He told the judge that while Mrs. Rivers had pleaded guilty, she "by no stretch of the imagination agrees with what the government had to say."

Prosecutors said in court that Mrs. Rivers never accepted responsibility for her wrongdoing, and that her indictment outlined a massive scheme in which she used grant money intended to shelter homeless families and assist handicapped children and pregnant teen-agers for her own use.

Her Mental Health Foundation housed a shelter for families, pregnant teens and the mentally handicapped. She also operated a school in Chicago for children with behavioral disorders.

Prosecutors said she diverted cash to pay employees of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services for participating in the approval of contracts for her foundations.

They also said she paid off bankers to allow the use of cashier's checks to conceal the source of money, and paid the legal expenses of a friend subpoenaed by the grand jury in her case.

The indictment accused Mrs. Rivers of 22 counts of mail and wire fraud, four counts of theft, seven counts of making false statements, three counts of tax evasion, three counts of failing to file tax returns and one count of obstruction of a federal audit.

The thefts, between 1988 and 1995, involved the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and several state and local agencies.

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