President Barack Obama has granted the first pardons of his presidency, to nine people convicted of crimes including possessing drugs, counterfeiting and even mutilating coins.
No one well-known was on the list, and some of the crimes dated back decades or had drawn little more than a slap on the wrist in the first place — such as the Pennsylvania man sentenced in 1963 to probation and a $20 fine for mutilating coins. The mutilation of coins occurred when a young Marine made dimes out of pennies, cutting the lip off, to use the coins in vending machines.
The White House declined to give details on the cases or comment on why these particular people were selected by a president who previously had only pardoned Thanksgiving turkeys.
"Well, we were only making only $82 a month," he said. "We were using them in the washing machines, the dryers, the cigarette machines and the pop machines on the base in our barracks."
Foster, now 66, said he wasn't aware that he even had a felony conviction on his record until he applied for a gun permit in Pennsylvania five years ago and was denied. After getting out of the Marines in 1966, Foster returned to Pennsylvania and spent 27 years as a supervisor at a ceiling plant and also served on the local zoning board. He also spent 35 years as a volunteer firefighter.
He was told about the pardon earlier Friday by his lawyer, who applied for it on his behalf about 18 months ago.
Presidential pardons often come in the holiday season toward year's-end, but they can sometimes be extremely controversial, such as when Bill Clinton pardoned fugitive financier Marc Rich at the end of his presidency.
President George W. Bush drew heat for commuting the sentence of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, in the case of the 2003 leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. But Bush rejected Cheney's vigorous urging that he later pardon Libby as well.
"The president was moved by the strength of the applicants' post-conviction efforts at atonement, as well as their superior citizenship and individual achievements in the years since their convictions," said White House spokesman Reid Cherlin. The White House announced the pardons Friday as Obama was in the air on the way home from a surprise visit to Afghanistan.
Obama has received 551 pardon petitions in the course of his presidency, of which he's denied 131, according to the Justice Department. Another 265 petitions were closed without presidential action.
In addition to Foster, the people pardoned were:
—Scoey Lathaniel Morris, of Crosby, Texas, sentenced in 1991 to three years of probation and $1,200 restitution for counterfeiting offenses.