Trump’s Final-Minute Pardon Frees Man Nonetheless Dealing with Accusations of Violence

Trump’s Last-Minute Pardon Frees Man Still Facing Accusations of Violence

President Donald J. Trump’s late-night commutation of a 10-year jail sentence being served by a drug smuggler named Jonathan Braun made the motion sound nearly routine. The White Home mentioned solely that upon his launch, Mr. Braun would “search employment to help his spouse and youngsters.”

What the White Home didn’t point out is that Mr. Braun, a New Yorker from Staten Island who had pleaded responsible in 2011 to main a large-scale marijuana smuggling ring, nonetheless faces each felony and civil investigations in a wholly separate matter, and has a historical past of violence and threatening folks.

In line with lawsuits filed in June against Mr. Braun and two associates by the New York State legal professional normal, Letitia James, and the Federal Commerce Fee, Mr. Braun helped begin and labored as a de facto enforcer for an operation that made predatory loans to small-business house owners, threatening them with violence in the event that they refused to pay up.

Federal prosecutors for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan even have a seamless investigation into that operation, an individual with information of the investigation mentioned Friday.

As lately as two and a half years in the past, Mr. Braun was accused of throwing a person off a deck at an engagement occasion. Federal prosecutors mentioned in a court docket continuing that he threatened to beat a rabbi who borrowed cash to renovate a preschool at his synagogue. “I’m going to make you bleed,” he instructed the rabbi, in line with court docket paperwork, including, “I’ll make you undergo for each penny.”

How a lot Mr. Trump and his aides knew about Mr. Braun’s previous and his present authorized troubles isn’t clear. In its announcement of the pardon this week, the White Home seems to have considerably overstated how a lot of his 10-year sentence Mr. Braun had accomplished, saying he had served 5 years when he had solely reported to jail a 12 months in the past. (The White Home announcement additionally misspelled his first title, calling him Jonathon.)

Mr. Braun’s household had instructed folks it was prepared to spend tens of millions of {dollars} for attorneys and others to attempt to get him out of jail, in line with two individuals who have been in touch with the members of the family in latest months.

Nobody registered underneath federal lobbying legal guidelines to make Mr. Braun’s case to the Trump administration, although registration wouldn’t essentially be required for authorized illustration. The White Home announcement of the wave of 143 pardons and commutations early Wednesday, simply hours earlier than Mr. Trump left workplace, didn’t cite anybody who had backed the commutation of Mr. Braun’s sentence.

The lawyer Alan M. Dershowitz, who represented Mr. Trump in his first impeachment trial, mentioned he “performed a really restricted function” in Mr. Braun’s clemency push, “nearly solely” advising his father in regards to the clemency course of, and was paid “a really small amount of cash” for his help.

Mr. Dershowitz mentioned he believed Mr. Braun’s argument for clemency was “meritorious,” as a result of Mr. Braun cooperated with prosecutors “for a few years, and was instructed that his cooperation could be acknowledged and he didn’t get that recognition.”

His case is the most recent proof of how far the pardon course of underneath Mr. Trump had strayed from the rigorous Justice Department tips and screening that earlier presidents had largely relied on for clemency suggestions.

“Jonathan Braun has threatened small-business house owners with violence, dying and even kidnapping,” Ms. James mentioned. “A federal commutation won’t shield Mr. Braun from being held accountable in New York for the civil expenses towards him.”

Interviews and court docket paperwork paint a portrait of Mr. Braun as a significant drug smuggler who as soon as beat one in all his underlings so badly with a belt that Mr. Braun instructed others he had left the sufferer “black and blue.” In one other occasion, he threatened violence towards a girl who labored for him who was threatening to cooperate with prosecutors.

In response to questions in regards to the pardon, Mr. Braun’s lawyer, Marc Fernich, declined to debate how Mr. Braun had gotten his case in entrance of White Home officers or who had represented him. However Mr. Fernich praised Mr. Trump’s motion.

“Mr. Braun’s 10-year sentence was grossly unreasonable — an excessive statistical outlier — on the information and circumstances of his case,” Mr. Fernich mentioned in an e-mail message. He mentioned he applauded Mr. Trump’s “braveness in correcting what was a grave injustice.”

A spokesman for Mr. Trump didn’t return an e-mail message in search of remark.

Mr. Braun was indicted in 2010 and entered a plea deal within the drug case the subsequent 12 months after initially fleeing the nation for Canada and Israel earlier than turning himself in. He was not sentenced till 2019 and didn’t must report back to jail till final January.

Whereas free on bail after his responsible plea however earlier than reporting to jail, he plunged into a brand new enterprise, serving to run an operation that made loans to small-business house owners at extraordinarily excessive rates of interest. In line with the suits filed last year by Ms. James, the New York State legal professional normal, and the Federal Commerce Fee, Mr. Braun commonly threatened those that had hassle repaying the loans.

“I do know the place you reside.” Mr. Braun instructed a small-business proprietor who he claimed owed him cash, in line with court docket paperwork filed by Ms. James.

Mr. Braun instructed the enterprise proprietor he knew the place his mom lived.

“I’ll take your daughters from you,” he mentioned, in line with the go well with.

Mr. Braun is accused within the go well with of telling one other enterprise proprietor: “Be grateful you’re not in New York, as a result of your loved ones would discover you floating within the Hudson.”

Earlier presidents relied on a Justice Division screening course of for pardons that ensured they had been being given in an evenhanded means and that these with cash and connections weren’t receiving preferential remedy. However Mr. Trump largely disregarded that course of and wielded his clemency powers in contrast to any earlier president.

The Structure offers presidents the power to situation pardons and commutations, a brake on the felony justice system and a method to present grace and mercy. However Mr. Trump doled out clemency to buddies, allies, donors, witnesses who didn’t cooperate with investigations that concerned him and his marketing campaign, and those that may assist him politically.

“When the Justice Division course of is short-circuited, and there’s inadequate vetting — in the event you don’t take the time to take a look at somebody’s historical past and potential different publicity — that is what you find yourself with: a course of that seems corrupted by cash and affect,” mentioned Daniel Zelenko, a white-collar protection lawyer at Crowell and Moring and former federal prosecutor and enforcement lawyer on the Securities and Trade Fee.

The complete story of Mr. Braun’s arrest, indictment and sentencing spans a decade and, in line with prosecutors’s statements in court docket and filings in his case, typically unfolded like a criminal offense thriller.

In 2009, brokers from the Drug Enforcement Administration raided a home on Staten Island that Mr. Braun’s drug trafficking community used to stash massive stockpiles of medication. Mr. Braun, who was in Florida on the time, realized from his underlings in regards to the raid.

Instantly, Mr. Braun rented a automotive and with at the very least one affiliate drove 25 hours to the New York border with Canada.

“At nighttime, dressed solely in black and using a motorless boat, Braun was ferried throughout the river into Canada, and remained there for a number of months, hiding out in one of many properties owned by his Canadian affiliate,” in line with court docket paperwork filed by the Justice Division.

Mr. Braun then fled to Israel the place he took refuge for a number of months, hoping to keep away from being apprehended as he continued to run his drug operation from an encrypted Blackberry cellphone, the paperwork say. Within the fall of 2009, Mr. Braun returned to america, the place he was arrested and jailed.

When he was indicted in 2010, he was charged with working a marijuana ring that was one of many main distributors in New York Metropolis, smuggling in and promoting $1.72 billion price from 2007 to 2010.

“It’s neither an exaggeration nor hyperbole to state that the defendant and his felony enterprise generated unlawful proceeds exceeding the gross home product of a small nation,” the Justice Division mentioned in a 2010 submitting.

His attorneys sought at that time to persuade a choose to launch him on bail however prosecutors efficiently stored him in jail, laying out how Mr. Braun had instructed others that he deliberate to flee america if he was launched on bail.

“Braun particularly instructed a cooperating authorities witness that he would ‘by no means do time in jail,’” prosecutors mentioned in a court docket submitting. “Braun went on to clarify that ‘for 10 grand, I may get a faux passport’ and be ‘on a seaside someplace the place there isn’t any extradition,’ nonetheless ‘being profitable.’”

In arguing that Mr. Braun ought to stay in jail, the prosecutors laid out a grotesque episode during which he beat a youthful man working for him who had been given the job of guarding $100,000 price of marijuana being stored in a home in California.

After Mr. Braun realized that the marijuana had been stolen, he referred to as the person and demanded he give him $100,000. The person refused. Mr. Braun and one in all his enforcers booked flights to California, arriving there the subsequent morning. They broke into the home the place they discovered the person in mattress.

“Braun then took off his belt and proceeded to viciously whip his employee with the belt,” the court docket paperwork say. “At one level, the ‘child’ tried to get away from Braun, however Braun’s enforcer pushed him again down onto the mattress in order that Braun may proceed the beating. In Braun’s personal phrases, his brutal assault left the ‘child’s’ whole physique ‘black and blue.’”

Mr. Braun pleaded responsible in 2011 to 2 counts of conspiring to import a managed substance and cash laundering. As a part of his plea, prosecutors allowed him to be launched on bail and stay at dwelling whereas awaiting sentencing. His sentencing was delayed repeatedly.

Authorized specialists and protection attorneys say that defendants are sometimes on their greatest conduct when they’re out on bail and awaiting sentencing. However Mr. Braun continued to flout the regulation, in line with the fits later filed towards him by the New York State legal professional normal and the Federal Commerce Fee.

In 2018, Bloomberg News wrote a series of articles about how Mr. Braun had emerged as a number one short-term lender to small companies. Whereas structured to attempt to keep away from usury legal guidelines, the charges Mr. Braun modified had been as excessive as 400 p.c a 12 months. The New York legal professional normal’s workplace opened an investigation in response to the articles.

The following 12 months, a choose held a sentencing listening to for Mr. Braun on the drug trafficking expenses. On the listening to, prosecutors laid out two latest episodes during which Mr. Braun had violently assaulted others. One allegation mentioned that Mr. Braun had thrown somebody off a two-story balcony at a Staten Island engagement occasion in the summertime of 2018.

The opposite allegation associated to how Mr. Braun had lent cash to the Brooklyn rabbi for the preschool. The rabbi had fallen behind on the funds and Mr. Braun reportedly threatened to beat and humiliate him.

“I am coming to Crown Heights,” Mr. Braun said, according to a lawsuit filed by the synagogue. “I’ll grasp papers all around the lampposts in Crown Heights stating that you’re a liar and a thief. I’m going to inform folks that you’re operating an unlawful operation and a rip-off.”

Fearing the rabbi could be attacked, the synagogue wired Mr. Braun $1,000 and employed a lawyer. In a subsequent name between Mr. Braun and the lawyer, Mr. Braun referred to as the lawyer a profanity, in line with the go well with filed by the synagogue.

Shortly after Mr. Braun’s commutation was introduced, Mr. Dershowitz mentioned he acquired a name from Mr. Braun and his father.

“All people was very grateful. There have been a number of tears going round,” Mr. Dershowitz mentioned, explaining that the daddy referred to as once more on Friday earlier than the Jewish Sabbath. “And he mentioned he’s going to proceed to name me each Shabbos, so I ought to anticipate a name.”

Kenneth P. Vogel and Ben Protess contributed reporting. Susan C. Beachy and Kitty Bennett contributed analysis.

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