“When we worked on clemency during the Obama administration, it was based on objective criteria, not recommendations of some political ally or some celebrity,” said Kevin Ring, who served time in federal prison for his role in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and is president of the criminal justice reform group FAMM, formerly known as Families Against Mandatory Minimums.
The group runs a closed Facebook forum for 7,000 family members of inmates, which filled with anxious but excited messages of prayer and hope for the release of loved ones in the run-up to Mr. Trump’s final round of clemency grants, issued 12 hours before he left office.
“And I was incredibly sad, because I thought you really have next to no chance, because he is not using the process that your loved one would even be in the mix for,” Mr. Ring said.
Even some beneficiaries of clemency grants by Mr. Trump concede that the process is not equitable.
There are “so many thousands of inmates that never get a chance to even have their names put in there, so that’s just so unfair,” said Barry Wachsler, who paid legal fees associated with Mr. Weinstein’s court appeals and clemency push. “Does it help if you have money and the right connections? You know, I guess it does. It definitely does.”
A Long Island businessman, Mr. Wachsler said he met Mr. Weinstein by chance five years ago when he went to visit a friend in federal prison who introduced the two men.
Mr. Weinstein, 45, had pleaded guilty in 2013 to charges related to a Ponzi-style real estate scheme that caused $200 million in losses, much of which came from investors from an Orthodox Jewish community in New Jersey with which he was associated. Prosecutors said he gained trust from potential victims by enlisting rabbis to vouch for him and making donations to Jewish organizations with his ill-gotten gains.
In 2014, he pleaded guilty to charges related to defrauding additional investors, including by falsely claiming to have access to coveted Facebook shares in the company’s forthcoming initial public offering, using the funds to pay legal fees related to his earlier indictment.