The head of the association representing career federal prosecutors unloaded Thursday on President Obama's decision to cut short the sentences of 214 prisoners, accusing the administration of violating its own clemency guidelines.
Obama's was the most commutations ever issued on a single day, according to political scientist P.S. Ruckman Jr., who tracks presidential commutations. His total now stands at 562, more than the previous nine presidents combined.
"These aren't little, nonviolent offenders."
Steve Cook, president of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, told LifeZette that 55 of the prisoners have firearms convictions -- in many cases not just possessing a weapon but using it help carry out drug distribution operations. Others have criminal backgrounds that should have raised red flags, he said.
"The reason some of this should shock people is when this clemency program was announced, the public was told in order to qualify, applicants had to meet six very specific criteria," he said, adding that even a cursory review suggests many should have failed that test.
Cook noted that two men who received a break were serving time for "engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise," which he said indicates they were drug kingpins.
A federal judge in New York State sentenced Dewayne L. Comer in 1997 to life in prison for leading a million-dollar drug ring from 1994 to 1996. According to syracuse.com, he was one of about two dozen people convicted of participating in a drug ring that sold crack cocaine in central New York. The judge ordered him to forfeit a Mercedes-Benz, a Ford minivan, a Volkswagen, and $17,600 in cash seized at the time of his arrest.
Since the conspiracy involved more than 1.5 kilograms of crack, his life prison term was mandatory at the time -- but would not be under more lenient sentencing guidelines that have since taken effect. He will get out of prison on Dec. 1, thanks to the president's commutation.
The other prisoner cited by Cook is Dawan "Swannie" Croskery, a Buffalo man sentenced in 2004 to 20 years in prison for engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise and money laundering. He will also be released from prison Dec. 1.
According to a Buffalo News article from the time he was sentenced, authorities arrested Croskery in October 2002, after a lengthy investigation by the FBI and the Public Safety Department of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority. He admitted to selling powder and crack cocaine and washing drug proceeds by purchasing cars in the names of other people.
Then there is Ralph Casas, whose life sentence Obama reduced to a little more than 24 years. Casas was convicted in connection with a drug conspiracy to smuggle -- as described by a federal appeals court -- "massive amounts cocaine and heroin from Puerto Rico and several foreign countries into Miami and New York."
Casas used his job as an American Airlines baggage handler at Miami International Airport to sneak the drugs past customs officials from September 1992 to March 1995. Cook noted that the cocaine quantity -- 9,445 kilograms -- is more than 10 tons.
"These aren't little, nonviolent offenders," Cook said.
Cook said those three cases may represent the tip of the iceberg, as a thorough analysis of the 214 names on the list has yet to be performed.
"That's without doing any digging at all," he said.
Another criterion set forth by the Obama administration in 2014 was that prisoners eligible for commuted sentences should not have extensive criminal records. But he said one prisoner who got a break in a previous round of clemency had eight felony drug convictions on his record.
"I don't know where in the country this would not be considered a significant criminal history," he said.
Cook said he is bracing himself for further commutations, as Obama has promised. He said he believes the White House will review some 30,000 cases.
"My theory is when they went in and looked [at the applications], there were not significant numbers of low-level, nonviolent offenders who didn't have significant criminal histories," he said. "I don't know how much worse it can get."