Chibueze Okorie, who drove a van for an East New York drug ring, pleaded guilty in 1989 to possessing heroin with intent to distribute. Facing a 7-year-sentence, Okorie
agreed to help prosecutors. A judge sentenced him to the 18 months in prison he had already served and noted his cooperation, according to his lawyer, Margaret Colgate Love.
Okorie turned his life around in prison, went to seminary school after his release and has served as director of evangelism and prison outreach at his Brooklyn church for nearly two decades.
Still, he faces deportation back to Nigeria and separation from his American-born child, his Brooklyn church and the men he ministers to in prison.
"A pardon is the only way for him to avoid being deported," Love said. Any non-citizen, including those with green cards, can be deported if convicted of a serious offense. But Okorie's case stands out among the more than 1,700 petitions that President Bush had denied during his presidency.
According to an investigation of the case by the department's Office of the Inspector General, former US Pardon Attorney Roger Adams told a colleague at the US Department of Justice that Okorie was "about as honest as you could expect for a Nigerian. Unfortunately, that's not very honest." When asked about the remark, Adams told investigators that he believes Nigerian immigrants "commit more crimes than other people," and that an applicant's ethnic background is "an important consideration" in the pardon's process. "It's one the White House wants to know about," Adams said. The inspector general's office disagreed. "We believe that Adams' comments - and his use of nationality in the decision-making process - were inappropriate," the report concluded. "We were extremely troubled by Adams' belief that an applicant's 'ethnic background' was something that should be an 'important consideration' in a pardon decision."
Despite the report's findings, Adam's subsequent dismissal and additional pleas from New York City officials, state lawmakers and a letter from former Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), President Bush stuck with Adams' advice and denied Okorie's request for a pardon prior to leaving office..
"I wish I could have talked to George Bush face to face," the 47-year-old Okorie said during an interview at the Church of Gethsemane, a modest house of worship also used by Kolot Chayeinu, a Jewish congregation in the liberal, upper-middle-class neighborhood. "I wish I could show him what is in my heart and introduce him to my son."
Okorie's case has been championed by the New York Daily News, and Margaret Love stepped in to represent him once the petition was denied by President Bush.
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