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Trump’s last-minute pardons included a Philly radio host

The list includes Salomon Melgen, who stood trial alongside Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) in a corruption and bribery case and Gary Hendler, a Philly radio host now on Gov. Wolf's drug council.

President Donald Trump waves as he boards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington. Trump is en route to his Mar-a-Lago Florida Resort.
President Donald Trump waves as he boards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington. Trump is en route to his Mar-a-Lago Florida Resort.Read moreAlex Brandon / AP

It was 5:30 a.m. Wednesday when Gary Hendler shot up in bed in his Ardmore home to scroll through the list of the 73 people President Donald Trump had just pardoned.

He’d given up hope of seeing his name.

Six years ago he filled out a 90-page application to get pardoned for a drug-related crime he’d committed in the early 1980s. “I didn’t think I would get it from Trump. I’m not famous. I’m not anything.” Hendler didn’t even vote for Trump.

“Then I saw Gary Evan Hendler and I got all choked up. I couldn’t believe it,” he said, his voice cracking. “It’s a miracle.” He turned to his wife, Marjorie. “This must be what it feels like when you hit the lottery.”

Hendler, a 67-year-old father of two daughters, has spent the last 38 years helping others recover from addiction. In 1985, he started AA meetings at Main Line Reform Temple and they continue today. He hosts the Clean and Sober Radio show on WWDB and Gov. Tom Wolf recently appointed Hendler to serve on the Pennsylvania Advisory Council on Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

Outside his work in recovery, he has operated his own company, Suburban Real Estate in Ardmore, for the last 26 years.

Almost 40 years ago, the Havertown-reared Hendler saw that his life was spiraling down. After graduating from Temple University with a degree in journalism, he got thrown out of law school his first year at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Fla., for not doing any work, “being a troublemaker,” and growing a fondness for the sedative quaaludes.

But he had a plan. “I brought up three idiot friends from law school to Philly and we figured we’d open up a quaaludes clinic,” he said. “People would pay doctors a certain amount of money to write prescriptions. I thought, ‘What a great business idea!’ Little did I know it was illegal. I thought since we didn’t write prescriptions, we just had a business, it would be OK.”

They opened the clinic in West Philadelphia, but Hendler didn’t last long. He said his partners tossed him after about three weeks over a money dispute. “Thank God I was thrown out,” he said.

In 1982, he faced local drug charges and his attorney told him he’d look good in court if he went into rehab. “A bulb went off and I said I’d had enough,” he said.

The last time he touched drugs or alcohol was May 3, 1982, he said.

By then, the feds were closing in on the quaaludes clinic. In 1984, he was convicted of conspiracy to distribute and dispense controlled substances. He was sentenced to three years’ probation. He believes he got off easy because he didn’t make money off the clinic, had been sober for two years, and had started to turn his life around. Still, he was a convicted felon.

After he applied for a pardon, the FBI knocked on his neighbors’ doors asking what they knew about him, if they had anything bad to say. Everyone apparently vouched for him. Hendler also had the support of former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who grew up in Lower Moreland, and the federal pardon attorney.

“I wanted this to write the final chapter of my old days, my bad days,” Hendler said. “I wanted to close the book on it. The only way to have that closure is for the president to grant you a pardon.

“If my mother was alive, she’d say, ‘Gary, he did the right thing.’ Then she’d say, ‘I don’t want anyone to know about this.’”

Hendler was one of 144 people who received pardons and commutations from the president early Wednesday during the final hours of his administration. Here is a look at some of the other local recipients:

Dr. Salomon Melgen

A Democratic donor, close friend of Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), and Florida doctor, Melgen was convicted in 2017 of defrauding Medicare of more than $73 million.

In 2015, Melgen was charged alongside Menendez in a bribery and fraud case that alleged the senator had accepted flights, pricey hotel stays, and other expensive gifts from Melgen. In turn, prosecutors accused Menendez of lobbying government officials to assist the doctor in his dispute with Medicare and helped foreign women get visas to come to the United States to visit Melgen.

Both men denied wrongdoing and their case ended in a mistrial. Melgen’s pardon application was supported by Menendez and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R., Fla.).

And while Trump commuted Melgen’s prison sentence to time served, he must still pay the $59,000 in fines and restitution that the judge ordered at his sentencing.

Menendez, a staunch Trump critic, told the Bergen Record on Wednesday that he doubted it was his influence that swayed the president.

“I don’t pretend to know what motivates President Trump to act, but I am pretty sure it’s not me,” the senator said. “Months ago, I was asked if I could offer insight about an old friend, and I did, along with what I understand were more than 100 individuals and organizations, including his former patients and local Hispanic groups familiar with Sal’s leadership and philanthropy in the South Florida community.”

George Gilmore

The former chairman of the Ocean County GOP and one of New Jersey’s top Republican power brokers, Gilmore was convicted in 2019 of evading payroll taxes owed by his Toms River law firm and lying on a loan application.

Gilmore had been a fixture in the state’s GOP establishment since 1996, leading Ocean County’s reliable county-level Republican machine in the reliably blue state.

His pardon application was supported by former New Jersey Govs. Chris Christie and James McGreevey, ex-Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, Trump campaign manager and former Christie aide Bill Stepien, and others.

Eliyahu Weinstein

The Lakewood, N.J., man had served eight years of a 24-year sentence for running a Ponzi scheme that scammed investors out of $200 million. Weinstein, 45, was also convicted of orchestrating a fraud during Facebook’s initial public stock offering in 2012.

His pardon was supported by Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R., N.J.), lawyer Alan Dershowitz, and others.

Dr. Frederick Nahas

A Somers Point, N.J., vascular surgeon, Nahas, 74, spent a month in prison in 2003 as part of a case arising from a federal investigation into his billing practices.

The probe uncovered no fraud, the White House said in its announcement, but Nahas “did not fully cooperate and ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of obstructing justice.”

His pardon application was supported by Van Drew.