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Obama pardons Bucks woman for 1984 drug offense

In 1984, Diane DeBarri, a Bucks County native, was convicted of federal drug charges and sentenced to 90 days in prison.

Diane Mary DeBarri
Diane Mary DeBarriRead more

In 1984, Diane DeBarri, a Bucks County native, was convicted of federal drug charges and sentenced to 90 days in prison.

Since then, she has more than turned her life around, rising to be chief executive officer and chairman of the Kintock Group, a nonprofit that runs halfway houses and counseling programs in Philadelphia and New Jersey and employs 300 people.

But she was haunted by the conviction.

"I think I wanted some closure in my life," said DeBarri, 61, of Fairless Hills.

So she visited the website of the Department of Justice and printed out an application seeking a presidential pardon for a federal drug conviction.

On Wednesday - three years after her application and an extensive review process - President Obama granted her request.

"I was completely taken by surprise when I got the phone call" that day from the Office of the Pardon Attorney in the Department of Justice, DeBarri said.

"It almost didn't seem real," she said.

A presidential pardon does not expunge the record of a conviction, but it restores rights such as voting and serving on federal juries.

The Justice Department website says a presidential pardon "is ordinarily a sign of forgiveness and is granted in recognition of the applicant's acceptance of responsibility for the crime and established good conduct for a significant period of time after conviction or release from confinement."

Obama granted pardons to 12 people and commuted the sentences of eight others.

DeBarri was pardoned for her 1984 conviction on federal charges of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute methamphetamine, and distribution of methamphetamine. Besides being sent to prison, she was on probation for five years.

She did not want to discuss details of the case. "That was a very painful time in my life," she said, acknowledging, "I made some very bad decisions."

She added: "My family went through a lot and supported me through those years."

In 1986, she got a second chance when she was hired by the Kintock Group, which then had another name. The company had been started a year earlier by David D. Fawkner, a retired federal probation officer.

"He was my boss. He gave me an opportunity. He gave me a chance. And this is what this company is about," DeBarri said.

While working with former inmates transitioning to the outside world, she attended night classes at the former Philadelphia branch of Antioch University. She earned a bachelor's degree in human service in 1992.

She gradually rose through the ranks at the Kintock Group, which now has headquarters in King of Prussia, becoming CEO in 2010 and replacing Fawkner as chairman last year.

"I can't tell you how honored and grateful I am to be granted something like this," she said of the pardon.

"I worked very hard to be productive and law-abiding," she said. "I always believed if you do the right things in life, life can work out for you."