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Jewish World Review March 6, 2001 / 11 Adar, 5761

M.E. Sprengelmeyer

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Clinton pardon clears anteater smuggler

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- IMPORTED anteater skins got a man in trouble, but a pardon by President Clinton wiped his record clean.

Howard Winfield Riddle, a former Texas leather dealer who now lives in Mount Crested Butte, Colo., made the now-infamous list of 140 last-minute Clinton pardons.

A federal grand jury indicted Riddle and five other people in 1988 for an alleged scheme to smuggle the skins of endangered anteaters from Thailand to Texas, where anteater skin is prized for boots costing three times the price of average boots.

Riddle eventually pleaded guilty to receipt of illegally imported animal skins. He was sentenced to 10 months in jail, community service and a $30,000 fine.

But he thought he got a "raw deal," said his former father-in-law, Harry Harding of Tennessee, who vouched for Riddle in a letter supporting the pardon application.

"I just think the boy got a raw deal," said Harding, who underwent an FBI background check. "I just told them as far as I was concerned, he was a good son-in-law, a good husband and a good father, (with) high morals, high standards."

Riddle did not return repeated phone messages.

The U.S. attorney's office in Fort Worth, Texas, officially opposed the pardon, based on the recommendation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, prosecutor Richard Roper said.

The House Government Reform Committee completed hearings last week into the last-minute pardons of fugitive financier Marc Rich and a handful of other convicted criminals over allegations that financial contributions and personal access cleared the way.

No similar allegations have been made in Riddle's case, and Federal Elections Commission records show no political contributions by Riddle or his immediate family.

"We can't look at every pardon," committee spokesman Mark Corallo said. "It's an irrevocable power of the president. ... It's a way to tell future presidents that what a president has is a legacy, and Bill Clinton's legacy is more sullied than it was already."

Harding, 72, described his former son-in-law as a very wealthy man who has contributed money to evangelist Billy Graham. Long after Harding's daughter and Riddle divorced, Riddle remained close to his in-laws, Harding said.

He said his only connection to Clinton was that he voted for him twice.

Riddle first applied for a pardon in 1995. It was rejected by Clinton in 1998, but then approved on Jan. 20, 2001, the day Clinton left office.

Even though Riddle paid his debt to society, he wanted to clear his name, Harding said.

"Once you've committed a felony it will go to the grave with you," Harding said. "I feel like this: Every president pardons who he wants to."

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