INDIANAPOLIS — During his eight years in office, Gov. Mitch Daniels had been downright stingy with granting pardons.
And as the days of his last term dwindled he found himself struggling with one particular case – the nephew of an old high school buddy who dealt cocaine when he was 21.
“It worked against him that I knew someone in his family. Honestly if he was someone I never heard of it would have been straightforward,” Daniels said. “I deliberated a long, long time and finally decided it was the right thing to do.
“I could have done the easy thing and said no.”
Family ties aren’t the only questionable facet about the pardon, though.
A former Cabinet member of Daniels submitted the petition and testified at the pardon hearing. And the governor had received $13,000 in campaign contributions from the pardoned man’s father, individually or through his insurance business.
The high level of the felony also was rare for Daniels, who is now president of Purdue University.
The story begins in 1997 when Anthony Nefouse, then of Hamilton County, started using cocaine. He became addicted quickly and then sold drugs to an undercover informant.
He was charged originally with two counts of conspiracy to deal in cocaine, a Class A felony carrying between 20 and 50 years in prison. He ultimately pleaded to a B felony conspiracy to deal in cocaine, and received a 12-year suspended sentence with six years of strict probation.
Nefouse, now 37, has never committed any other crime. He has worked at his father’s health insurance company in Indianapolis, married his high school sweetheart and is raising two sons. He also has worked with the autism community to provide insurance to children.
But the felony conviction was holding him back. For instance, he couldn’t volunteer and participate in some of his sons’ activities.
And he said the conviction prevented him from being certified as a financial planner or holding a real estate license.
“Just because you’re a stupid kid it doesn’t mean it has to haunt you the rest of your life,” Nefouse said.
So he started the arduous pardon process. He prepared the case and filed in March 2010. He didn’t get a hearing before the parole board until January 2012. And the pardon didn’t come until December of that year.
“I don’t believe I was shown any favoritism in the process,” he said.
The parole board voted 3-0 to recommend the pardon after an emotional hearing and with strong letters of support from the community.
“I am impressed with Tony’s tenacity to change the course of his life,” wrote one businessman. “He has come a long way and has learned from his past experiences.”
The case then went to Daniels, who immediately recognized the name.
Daniels graduated from North Central High School in Indianapolis in 1967 with Anthony’s uncle. The former governor also met Anthony’s father, Lonnie – who attended North Central a few years earlier – much later in life
As for Anthony – “I wouldn’t know him if he walked in my house right now,” Daniels said.
But Lonnie – president of Nefouse & Associates – had supported Daniels’ campaign over the years. He gave $3,000 personally and $10,000 from his company between 2003 and 2008. Anthony himself gave $300 in the first race.
Daniels said he had no idea there were campaign contributions.
“I never heard one word from anyone in the family. Maybe because they were properly skittish of doing so,” he said.
Another quirk in the case is the involvement of Mickey Maurer, a longtime family friend of Anthony.
Maurer was one of Daniels’ first appointments – serving as president of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation and Secretary of Commerce. He worked for the state for two years at a $1 salary.
Maurer filed the petition for pardon, testified at the hearing and sent a letter of support.
He knew Anthony in 1997 and testified at the original sentencing hearing. He predicted then that Anthony had learned a painful lesson and would be a contributing member of society in the future.
“I was correct. He has been a success in every endeavor: husband, father, business person and member of society. I am pleased to call him my friend,” Maurer wrote. “I implore you to grant this pardon.”
Daniels recalls Maurer’s involvement, saying “he is a credible guy. He has a very strong sense of wrong and right.”
In his tenure as governor, he gave 62 pardons – far fewer than recommended by the board. He said his office kept statistics and he had the lowest pardon percentage of any governor.
Many of the pardons he gave were for theft-related charges. Eleven of the pardons were drug-related. Out of those, eight were for possession. Only three involved selling drugs. One was the Nefouse case alongside another he gave in 2012.
That was for a 53-year-old man who dealt marijuana in Adams County in 1979.
“We tried to apply a high standard and this case met it in every respect,” Daniels said.
He said he didn’t want a lot of last-minute pardons, and remembers being annoyed when the pardon board got behind and sent him a large stack in the fall of 2012.
He granted 14 in November and a few weeks later in December granted three others, including Nefouse. Daniels left office in January.
“I didn’t want to answer questions like this so I considered not doing what I otherwise thought was right,” Daniels said. “We were really, really careful about this whole thing. The question is ‘are you going to penalize someone because of his name?’ ”