- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

A California political fund-raiser who agreed to cooperate in the federal probe of President Clinton’s last-minute pardon of fugitive businessman Marc Rich is expected to be charged today in federal court in New York with stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars earmarked for charity.

Aaron Tonken — a longtime friend of Marc Rich’s ex-wife, Denise, who gave $1.7 million to Democrats and Mr. Clinton’s presidential library — was to be charged with using money he solicited for charities and fund-raisers on personal luxury items and to pay off loans and credit card bills, law enforcement authorities said.

A senior Justice Department official, who requested anonymity, said Mr. Tonken has been interviewed by federal investigators concerning the Rich pardon, which was among 176 questionable pardons and commutations ordered by Mr. Clinton just two hours before he left office in January 2000.

The questioning centered on Mr. Tonken’s relationship with Mrs. Rich and her donations to Democrats and the Clinton library, the official said.

Mr. Rich was named in a 1983 federal indictment on 65 counts of racketeering, fraud, tax evasion and illegal oil trading — accused of evading $48 million in taxes and violating U.S. sanctions by trading with Iran while American hostages were held in that country.

At the time of his pardon, Mr. Rich was No. 6 on the Justice Department’s list of top fugitives.

He fled to Switzerland after the indictment and prosecutors refused for 17 years to negotiate with him over the charges.

Mr. Clinton has said he awarded the pardon based on the merits of the case and that donations by Mrs. Rich had nothing to do with the decision.

Mrs. Rich was not available for comment. She was given immunity and questioned under oath before a federal grand jury about the pardon, and federal authorities now want to know if she told the truth.

Her attorney, Tom Fitzpatrick, told reporters there was never any doubt she testified truthfully. He said the government never told him they doubted her veracity or were investigating her for perjury.

Washington socialite Beth Dozoretz, former national finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a longtime friend of Mrs. Rich, also was tied to the pardon question when she refused to answer questions from a House committee.

Mrs. Dozoretz was sent by former Clinton White House Counsel Jack Quinn, Mr. Rich’s most prominent attorney, to lobby Mr. Clinton on behalf of his client. Mr. Quinn encouraged her to “help me make sure the president himself” was aware of the application.

Mr. Quinn said he knew she frequently talked with Mr. Clinton, but denied using her access or fund-raising successes as leverage.

The pardon probe has focused on the source of the money for Mrs. Rich’s gifts, in part to see whether her ex-husband, who renounced his U.S. citizenship, sent money to give to Democrats and Mr. Clinton or whether she received it from other sources, authorities said.

Mr. Tonken’s attorney, George F. Bird Jr., did not return calls yesterday to his Torrance, Calif., office.

Marvin Smilon, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney in New York, said only that “our investigation is continuing.”

Mr. Tonken, 37, organized a fund-raiser for Mr. Clinton in 2000, just before the start of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. Some of that cash, authorities said, went to the senatorial campaign of then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, now the junior U.S. senator from New York, who reportedly described him during the event as “my good friend.”

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