Toussie, convicted of making false statements to the Housing and Urban Development Department and of mail fraud, was among 19 people pardoned Tuesday.
But after learning in news reports that Toussie's father had donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Republican Party a few months ago, as well as other information, the White House issued an extraordinary statement Wednesday saying the president was reversing his decision on Toussie's case.
White House press secretary Dana Perino said the decision to revoke the pardon
- a step unheard of in recent memory - was "based on information that has subsequently come to light," including the extent and nature of Toussie's prior criminal offenses. She also said neither the White House counsel's office nor the president had been aware of a political contribution by Toussie's father that "might create an appearance of impropriety."
"Given that, this was the prudent thing to do," she said.
The new information came to the White House's attention from news reports, Perino said.
A story in the New York Daily News said Toussie's father, Robert, donated $28,500 to the national Republican Party in April
- just months before Toussie's pardon petition.
The counsel's office generally doesn't include vetting of political contributions in its reviews on such matters, as that would be "highly inappropriate on many levels," she said. The White House decision on Toussie had come without a recommendation from the pardon attorney, Ronald L. Rodgers, as Toussie's request for a pardon came less than five years after completion of his sentence, so that eliminated another step in the review process.
The Daily News story on Wednesday, and others in Newsday and on blogs, shed light on Toussie's record. He pleaded guilty for lying to HUD and mail fraud, admitting that he falsified finances of prospective homebuyers seeking HUD mortgages. He was sentenced to five months in prison and five months' house arrest, a $10,000 fine and no restitution, the Daily News reported.
In another case, Toussie pleaded guilty to having a friend send his local county a letter that falsely inflated property values.
The Daily News located a lawyer representing hundreds of ex-customers who have sued Toussie in federal court, accusing him of luring poor, minority homebuyers into buying overpriced homes with mortgages that had hidden costs.
The attorney, Peter E. Seidman, said Wednesday that news of the pardon was "gut-wrenching for his clients" and left him "baffled."
"I am glad somebody at the White House woke up," he said in an interview.
Maxine D. Wilson, 42, bought one of Toussie's homes on Long Island in 1996. She later sued Toussie, claiming the house started to fall apart after she moved in in 1997. She said she was shocked when she learned Bush was going to pardon Toussie.
"I was angry at how money, power and influence seemed to trump justice," she said. But on Wednesday, she said she felt "somebody paid attention. Somebody stepped back and made us feel equal."
The Justice Department advises the president on who qualifies for pardons. Only people who have waited five years after their conviction or release from prison can apply for a pardon under the department's guidelines. Criminals are required to begin serving time, or otherwise exhaust any appeals, before they can be considered for sentence commutation.
But the president can forgive people outside that process if he chooses. Under the Constitution, the president's power to issue pardons is absolute and cannot be overruled
- meaning he can forgive anyone he wants, at any time.