EDGEFIELD, S.C. - Charles Z. Yonce Jr. received a phone call from Washington last week that he has waited on for 12 years.
The Clinton administration told him that his criminal record has been wiped clean. The president granted Mr. Yonce a full pardon for a low-level drug conviction more than a decade old.
"It was wonderful news," said a woman who answered the telephone at the Yonce residence Thursday in Edgefield but declined to give her name. "That happened 12 years ago, and we're just glad this is behind us. He was very excited."
Mr. Yonce was unavailable for comment, she said.
He was among 62 people granted Christmas-time clemency by President Clinton on Dec. 22. The pardoned ranged from a prominent politician to a chicken company executive to a NASCAR team owner, with most of the group convicted of drug, taxes or fraud violations.
Mr. Yonce was sent to prison April 27, 1988, after being convicted in a South Carolina federal court of conspiracy to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute it. He also was found guilty of aiding and abetting a conspiracy.
He was sentenced to six months in jail, followed by five years' probation, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
Mr. Yonce was set free nearly four months later on Aug. 18.
Casey Stavropoulof, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Justice Department, said she could not disclose the reason why Mr. Yonce was pardoned.
"The deliberative process, in terms of deciding which pardons are granted and which are not, is a confidential matter," she said. "The office of the pardon attorney receives information about the case, and it is passed on to the White House."
Ms. Stavropoulof confirmed Thursday that former Augusta mayor Ed McIntyre has requested to be pardoned, but no decision on his case has been made. He was sentenced to five years in prison in 1984 for bribery and extortion.
Although officials are tightlipped about why the 62 people were chosen over others, White House Deputy Press Secretary Jake Siewart shed some light on the reasoning behind the pardons.
"In the past, we've actually looked at a number of different cases where there are mandatory minimums that have been unduly harsh ... particularly in cases where the person was involved in typically a nonviolent drug conviction, was not directly involved in the crime itself, and oftentimes other folks in the offense were treated less severely," he said.
Of those granted clemency last week, 59 were pardoned and three were granted commutations. Clemency is the act of lessening legal action against someone, said White House spokesman Stephen Boyd.
A pardon clears the record for those who have served their time and paid their fines. A commutation reduces the amount of time the person is serving, Mr. Boyd said.
Recommendations for clemency are sent to the president by the Department of Justice, he added.
"As a long-standing policy dating back through past administrations, we do not comment on the president's decision-making process on particular cases," he said.
Mr. Yonce's longtime friend James F. Martin said he was thrilled when he heard about the pardon. After all, he played a small role in wiping the Edgefield man's record clean.
About five years ago, an FBI agent paid Mr. Martin a visit, asking him questions about Mr. Yonce's character.
"I told him that he seems to be living a clean life. He recently sold his Ford business and now runs a tire recycling company," Mr. Martin said. "He's straightened up. I feel confident he has."
Mr. Martin would not go into detail about the "trouble" Mr. Yonce got into more than a decade ago.
Reach Katie Throne at (803) 279-6895.
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