Obama pardons Beaver Falls coin felon

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When Ronald Lee Foster, 66, of Beaver Falls, tried to apply for a gun permit about two years ago, he was shocked when he was denied because he was a felon.

The retired shift supervisor at Armstrong World Industries had no idea why they would say he had a felony conviction, but then he started thinking about what had seemed like a small offense from almost 50 years ago.

In 1963, then-18-year-old Mr. Foster and 16 of his fellow Marines were stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and only making $82 a month. They wanted a way to come up with some spare change, so they started cutting off the outer lips of pennies and using them as dimes in the vending machines.

Their luck ran out when a Secret Service agent was put in the barracks, Mr. Foster said, probably because the vending company had caught on.

After rounding up everyone involved, they took the Marines before a judge.

"They marched us into the judge and he gave us a one year probation and $20 fine. None of us knew we had a felony at the time," he said.

It was a small punishment with much bigger consequences. The judge charged the men with mutilating coins, which is considered a felony, not a misdemeanor, a fact Mr. Foster discovered 45 years later.

He found a lawyer right away to see if he could get it expunged.

"I didn't feel like having a felony hanging over my head," he said.

But felonies cannot be expunged, so the lawyer came up with the idea to try for a presidential pardon.

"He filled out the paperwork, and then it was just a waiting game after that," he said.

He got the call on Friday that he was one of nine individuals who received pardons from President Barack Obama.

"It was a little bit of a surprise since it's a year and a half since I started the procedure," said Mr. Foster.

The White House announced the pardons Friday as Mr. Obama was on the way home from a surprise visit to Afghanistan.

"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.

Presidential pardons often come around the holidays, but they can sometimes be 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 Mr. Bush rejected Mr. Cheney's vigorous urging that he later pardon Mr. Libby as well.

Mr. 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.

Mr. Foster said he feels pretty good about it finally happening, and even a little surprised, but to him, it was the right thing to do.

"You read all the paperwork and the story behind and it just didn't make sense to have a felony for that offense," he said.

It will take about two or three weeks before the felony is out of the system, but Mr. Foster already has plans.

"[Getting a permit] will be the first thing I will do," he said.

In addition to Mr. Foster, the people pardoned were:

• James Bernard Banks, of Liberty, Utah, sentenced to two years of probation in 1972 for illegal possession of government property.

• Russell James Dixon, of Clayton, Ga., sentenced to two years of probation in 1960 for a liquor law violation.

• Laurens Dorsey, of Syracuse, N.Y., sentenced in 1998 to five years of probation and $71,000 in restitution for conspiracy to defraud by making false statements to the Food and Drug Administration.

• Timothy James Gallagher, of Navasota, Texas, sentenced in 1982 to three years of probation for cocaine possession and conspiracy to distribute.

• Roxane Kay Hettinger, Powder Springs, Ga., sentenced in 1986 to 30 days in jail and three years of probation for conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

• Edgar Leopold Kranz Jr., of Minot, N.D., who received 24 months of confinement and a pay reduction for cocaine use, adultery and bouncing checks.

• Floretta Leavy, of Rockford, Ill., sentenced in 1984 to 366 days in prison and three years of parole for drug offenses.

• Scoey Lathaniel Morris, of Crosby, Texas, sentenced in 1991 to three years of probation and $1,200 restitution for counterfeiting offenses.

Emily Gibb: egibb@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1985. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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