Pardoning the Unpardonable

September 10, 1994

Gov. William Donald Schaefer may have seen his posthumous pardon of Jerome S. Cardin, convicted of stealing $385,000 from Old Court Savings and Loan, as a small gesture intended to rehabilitate the reputation of an old political ally. But restoring Cardin's civil liberties speaks volumes about the governor's misguided loyalties.

Since Cardin's death last December, his family has been trying to revise history. They would like us to believe he was unwittingly entangled in the criminal acts at Old Court, whose collapse nine years ago precipitated a major financial crisis. At his trial, prosecutors produced mounds of evidence showing he was at the center of the conspiracy. A jury convicted of him of theft. Appeals all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that conviction. The trial record speaks for itself.

Jerome Cardin was politically powerful. He played a key role in behind-the-scenes legislative lobbying that resulted in the deregulation of the state's thrift industry in the early 1980s. He helped create the conditions that led to the collapse of Maryland's privately insured thrift system which cost taxpayers $175 million and produced gut-twisting anxiety for tens of thousands of depositors whose life savings were endangered. Many of the "reforms" that Cardin promoted allowed the self-dealing, reckless investing and mismanagement that characterized the system in its final years.

The governor, according to his office, pardoned Cardin because of the man's considerable philanthropic deeds and because he paid restitution. At every turn during the criminal proceedings, Cardin's attorneys and defenders invoked his charitable acts. This was taken into consideration in his sentencing, and it was noted when he was given a medical parole after serving a fraction of his 15-year term. Now it has been invoked in his pardon. These constitute an exceptional return on altruistic acts of charity.

In granting this pardon, Governor Schaefer did not consult the prosecutors who convicted Cardin or the depositors who had their savings frozen for years. Mr. Schaefer has opened the door for convicted Old Court principals Jeffrey Levitt and Allan Pearlstein to request restoration of their civil rights, too. They can legitimately claim they donated money to charity and paid considerable restitution for their crimes. For Cardin, a posthumous pardon has only symbolic meaning. For Levitt and Pearlstein, a pardon would have real-life consequences.

No pardon is warranted in this case. Cardin committed a crime that did serious damage to other people's lives and to this state. Governor Schaefer shouldn't be using his last months in office to send a signal that Maryland is soft on crime by cronies.

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