WASHINGTON, D.C. (WKBW) — A developer with ties to Western New York, Douglas Jemal, has received a presidential pardon from outgoing President Trump.
The White House released Trump's full list of last-hour pardons and commutations just after midnight Wednesday. It granted pardons to 73 people and commuted the sentences of another 70, including ex-Trump campaign strategist, Steve Bannon.
Trump granted Jemal a full pardon for a 2006 fraud conviction, in which a judge sentenced him to five years probation and a $175,000 fine.
Jemal has been behind several major projects in the Buffalo area in recent years, notably, investing $150 million into the redevelopment of Seneca One Tower.
Other major renovation projects on his watch; the iconic Statler Building, former Buffalo Police Headquarters and the mothballed Hyatt Regency downtown.
“Until this story came up — I had no idea,” responded Penny Wolfgang, retired State Supreme Court Justice Penny Wolfgang.
Wolfgang is surprised to learn high-profile Washington developer was federally convicted of wire fraud in connection to his real estate company.
Federal court documents filed back in 2004 show a number of federal charges against Jemal including bribery and fraud.
“These federal charges — when they involve this kind of complicated — real estate actions — or monetary actions or securities or any of those — is very hard to prove and it's very hard for juries to understand,” explained Wolfgang.
Wolfgang says no jail time was recommended for the developer and even the judge said it was “inconceivable” to send him to prison.
That was because of Jemal's philanthropic work helping to rebuild minority communities and donating to charities.
“But the judge himself said this man is a paradox — a model for the community and he's done so much charitable work and i've gotten all these letters on his behalf,” Wolfgang explained.
The official White House pardon reads in part “Mr. Jemal was instrumental to various other charitable causes, including the rebuilding of churches prior to his conviction."
“I’ve never even met the man — so this is not a personal matter — I just feel like he has done so much for this area,” Wolfgang remarked.
Jemal is a major donor to the GOP. Last august, he donated $100,000 to the Republican National Committee. In August 2019 and October 2020 he contributed a total of $2,0000 to republican Chris Jacobs’ campaign for congress.
We've reached out to Jemal but he has not yet responded.
As for the Trump pardon, Wolfgang said it appears more “symbolic.”
“I think it’s symbolic and I think it’s probably important to him, as a person, so this would not be like a slur on his record,” Wolfgang noted. “I think just a blip in his very illustrious career.”