President Donald Trump pardoned former Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore amid a wave of commutations and clemencies in the early morning hours of his last day in office.
Gilmore held control over politics in Ocean County for more than two decades until he resigned in April 2019 following his conviction on federal tax charges.
A jury found him guilty of failing to file employee tax returns, making false statements on a loan application. They found he wasn’t guilty of charges claiming he filed false tax returns and deadlocked on a tax evasion charge.
“This prosecution should never have been brought. The jury rejected the heart of the Government’s case and the President rejected the rest of it,” said Kevin Marino, Gilmore’s attorney. “For my partners and me, fighting for George Gilmore was a singular honor. Helping erase his wrongful conviction was one of the highlights of our professional lives.”
He was sentenced to a year and a day in prison and three years of probation but remained free on bail until he was pardoned shortly after midnight Wednesday.
“Words cannot express my gratitude and humility at being granted a full pardon by the President of the United States,” Gilmore said. “When it came to his attention, President Trump recognized the injustice of my conviction and used the power of his office to right that wrong.”
Bill Stepien, a former top aid to Gov. Chris Christie, lobbied for the pardon. The former Trump campaign manager and Gilmore have a close relationship.
“When it came to his attention, President Trump recognized the injustice of my conviction and used the power of his office to right that wrong,” said Gilmore. “Bill Stepien, my wonderful colleague and dear friend, advocated tirelessly for me. He went directly to the President and made an impassioned plea that I be pardoned.”
The pardon was also backed by five former governors, two of them Democrats, the White House said.
Christie was one, as were Democratic Govs. Jim McGreevey and James Florio. They were united by former acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco, who held the post and the Senate Presidency for about a year after Gov. Christine Todd Whitman resigned to take a post in President George W. Bush’s administration, and State Sen. John Bennett, who was acting governor for four days in 2002.
Former Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno joined in, as did former Rep. Tom MacArthur and State Sens. Gerald Cardinale (R-Demarest), Michael Testa (R-Vineland) and former State Sen. David Avella.
Joseph Buckelew, chairman of Connor Strong & Buckelew, the insurance firm where South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross is executive chairman, former Republican National Committee finance chair Lawrence Bathgate II, Jamestown Associates’ Larry Weitzner and Republican pollster Adam Geller also signed on to Gilmore’s pardon.
Gilmore’s conviction created a schism among Ocean County Republicans. His chosen successor, Toms River developer Frank Sadeghi, lost to current GOP Chair Frank Holman III in May 2019, and Gilmore raised a rival fundraising operation and has more than once backed competitors to Holman’s chosen candidates.
Most recently, Gilmore pushed David Richter for the line in New Jersey’s third congressional district over former Burlington County Freeholder Director Kate Gibbs, who won the endorsement of the Ocean Republicans’ screening committee.
Trump also pardoned his former White House advisor, Steve Bannon, as well as former Rick Renzi, a former congressman from Arizona.
Salomon Melgen, the physician at the center of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez’s corruption trial, had his sentence commuted. He was convicted of defrauding Medicare for $73 million.
Trump also pardoned Somers Point doctor Frederick Nahas and Ken Kurson. Kurson owns Sea of Reeds Media, the New Jersey Globe’s publisher.