From Times Online:
President Bush has been forced into an unprecedented U-turn over a pardon he recommended for a convicted fraudster after it emerged that the conman’s father had given a sizeable donation to the Republican Party this year.
Isaac Toussie, who conned hundreds of poor New Yorkers in a 2001 property fraud, was one of 19 people whose names were put forward for clemency by the outgoing President.
But after it emerged that Toussie’s father, Robert, had given $28,500 to the Republican National Committee in April – his first political donation – the Bush Administration did a rapid volte face.
Robert Toussie also donated $2,300 to John McCain’s presidential campaign.
Toussie, 36, pleaded guilty in 2001 to falsifying documents and in 2002 to mail fraud and was handed a five-month prison sentence, a $10,000 fine and three years probation, which ended in 2006.
His victims, mostly poor blacks and Latinos, say that they were lured into purchasing homes they could not afford in Long Island, that the properties were overpriced by up to 50 per cent, were often defective and the cost of mortgage repayments were hidden.
The Toussie case is particularly embarrassing for the Bush Administration as it seems to breach Justice Department guidelines that pardons would be considered only five years after a defendant has ended his sentence. Toussie’s case should have become eligible only next May.
It also appeared that lawyers for Toussie bypassed the usual Justice Department channels to appeal directly to the White House, where the counsel Fred Fielding approved the application.
From The Washington Post:
White House press secretary Dana Perino said neither Bush nor counsel Fred Fielding was aware of the GOP contributions from the father of Isaac Robert Toussie, who had been convicted of mail fraud and of making false statements to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Perino said Bush had also been unaware of other aspects of the Toussie case that were revealed in news reports yesterday.
Perino said Toussie’s clemency request was submitted to the Justice Department’s pardon attorney, Ronald L. Rodgers. But Perino said Rodgers decided he could not consider the petition because it was filed less than five years after Toussie completed his sentence. Toussie then filed his petition with Fielding’s office earlier this month.
Perino and other officials said they were unaware of any other presidential pardon ever having been rescinded.
Toussie is represented by Washington defense attorney Bradford A. Berenson, who served as an associate White House counsel under Bush from 2001 to 2003.
Toussie pleaded guilty to mail fraud and lying to HUD, admitting that he falsified finances of prospective home buyers seeking HUD mortgages, and was sentenced to five months in prison and five months’ house arrest in July 2003. The New York Daily News also noted that hundreds of former customers filed a federal lawsuit against Toussie, accusing him of luring poor, minority home buyers into agreeing to overpriced mortgages with hidden costs.
[In addition to Daddy Toussie's donations,] The elder Toussie’s wife, Laura, also gave $2,300 each to GOP Sens. Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Gordon Smith of Oregon, records show.
From Media General:
WASHINGTON—Rep. Eric I. Cantor’s congressional campaign will keep $2,300 in contributions it received from Robert I. Toussie [...]
Ray Allen, a senior strategist, speaking for Cantor’s campaign, said the congressman had “nothing do with” the granting or rescinding of a pardon for Isaac R. Toussie.
“There’s no connection between us and the pardon,” Allen said in an interview. “I don’t know why we would involve ourselves in the plenary powers of the presidency.”
Cantor had “no comment at all on the president’s handling of the situation,” Allen said.
The decision to return campaign funds is always a political calculation, said Massie Ritsch, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign money.
“[Cantor] could afford to give this money away, but it could set a precedent he may not want to set,” he said. “Giving the money away also suggests the money itself is tainted.”
Cantor’s campaign raised $4.5 million this election cycle, Allen said, and it would not be returning Toussie’s money or giving it to charity.
Cantor was the only member of the U.S. House to receive a contribution from Robert I. Toussie, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Now let’s see, Toussie lied to a lot of poor people and to a federal agency, but all he was sentenced to was 5 months in prison, 5 months house arrest, 3 years probation, and a $10,00 fine? I guess what he did wasn’t too bad, and he didn’t make a lot of money from it, right? Let’s check an article published on June 24, 2001. From Consumer Affairs:
Authorities say nearly 400 New York families, most of them inner-city minorities, fell victim to a housing scam orchestrated by Isaac Toussie, one of Long Island’s largest developers.
Most of the victims answered ads appearing in New York City newspapers, offering affordable housing, good schools and easy access to financing, even for those with bad credit and those who lacked cash for a down payments.
Those who fell into the trap wound up buying substandard houses at inflated prices, many of them in crime-ridden neighborhoods. Investigators from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) say Toussie worked in concert with real estate attorneys, mortgage bankers and appraisers to get low-income buyers mortgages they didn’t qualify for so they could buy houses they couldn’t afford.
That sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? Let’s go on….
Toussie’s attorney says the 29-year-old developer and his father, Robert, also a developer, netted more than $20 million from their real estate ventures in the late 1990s and were often seen driving Rolls Royces and Bentleys. The father has not been implicated in the alleged scam.
Meanwhile, many of Toussie’s home buyers are now deeply in debt after signing mortgages they are unable to pay on houses that are worth less than the amount of the loan. At least 40 homeowners are already in foreclosure proceedings and another 40 are likely to wind up there, according to Michael Stolworthy, the lead HUD investigator on the case.
Predatory lending and real estate scams are not unusual but what makes Tussie’s [sic] case interesting is that it involved a wide-ranging conspiracy of bankers, lawyers, appraisers and others, investigators said.
In one case cited by Newsday, Maxine Wilson paid $146,000 for a Toussie house on Long Island, the value set by an appraised recommended by Toussie. But when neighbors told her she had paid too much, she called in her own appraiser, who valued the house at $125,000.
Besides the inflated sales prices and financing irregularities, many of the 400 home buyers have complained that their houses are shoddily built. Many have encountered problems with the boiler, windows and drainage.
400 home buyers? Kids, are you like me in hoping that the Toussie family invested all of their money with Bernard Madoff?