WASHINGTON — Congressional investigators examining the Clinton pardon scandal said Wednesday that they have unearthed new evidence suggesting that former President Clinton's half-brother, Roger, may have been paid $50,000 for attempting to secure a clemency on behalf of a convicted New Jersey heroin trafficker.
Investigators said they also have discovered "a couple hundred grand" in unexplained traveler's checks that Roger Clinton cashed that were sent from Hong Kong, China and Venezuela.
The new evidence came to light after the House Government Reform Committee subpoenaed Roger Clinton's bank records and found a $50,000 check sent to him by a relative of Rosario Gambino, who is serving 45 years in prison for his conviction in what authorities said was a major drug operation on the East Coast.
Authorities have said that Gambino is a distant cousin of the late mob boss Carlo Gambino and a member of the Gambino organized crime family.
In addition, the committee said it learned that Gambino's name was on a list with several other criminal defendants that the Clinton White House sent to the Justice Department in January for criminal background checks. The list included names under consideration for presidential pardons or commutations in Bill Clinton's last days in office.
Roger Clinton, who has steadfastly denied receiving any money for pardons or other favors through his brother, is increasingly becoming a central figure both in the committee's review as well as a criminal investigation underway by the U.S. attorney's office and a federal grand jury in New York.
Several people have come forward in recent months to say they paid Roger Clinton or a group of his close associates large sums of money in return for pardons, commutations or special diplomatic passports. Roger Clinton himself got a pardon from his brother for his 1985 drug conviction.
Just last week, Garland Lincecum, in federal prison for fraud, told The Times that he and his family turned over $235,000 to an Arkansas company that he understood had ties to Roger Clinton, and that the president's half-brother would get him a pardon. No pardon was granted.
Likewise, committee sources said, no clemency was ever given to Gambino.
Mark Corallo, chief spokesman for the House Government Reform Committee, said the panel's investigators have tried repeatedly to get Roger Clinton to cooperate with them in their review. But at each step, he has refused to be interviewed or asked questions, and his lawyers have indicated that, if called to testify, he would plead the 5th Amendment against incriminating himself.
The most recent affront to the committee, Corallo said, was when Roger Clinton appeared on a television program last week and denied that any money was "exchanged" or given to him for pardons or other presidential favors.
"So we wrote him another letter, and we had some very pointed questions for him," Corallo said.
"We asked him, 'What did you do to get this $50,000 payment? Did you do any work for the Gambino family? Is this $50,000 in return for that work?'
"That check, that $50,000, was the real eye-popper for us."
Corallo said the reason the $50,000 stood out was because Roger Clinton otherwise seemed to have no steady means of financial support, and yet was living rather well in Southern California.
He said the check was signed by Anna Gambino, whom he described as Rosario's daughter, and drawn on a company owned by the Gambino family. He said it was made out to a music-related business that Roger Clinton controls.
"Well, we decided to check it out ourselves, and it traced back to Rosario Gambino," Corallo said. "Now we want to know how he can explain this money."
Corallo said investigators also want an explanation for the source of the traveler's checks, which he described as worth a "couple hundred grand" and that had been endorsed twice by Roger Clinton and cashed.
"How and why did this guy get a couple hundred grand?" Corallo said.
Roger Clinton's lawyer, Bart H. Williams, could not be reached for comment Wednesday night. But he told the New York Times that while his client and Gambino's son Tommy have been friends "for many years," the $50,000 payment was not in return for a clemency for Rosario Gambino.
However, Williams acknowledged that Roger Clinton wrote a letter to the parole commission several years ago on behalf of Rosario Gambino.
A former resident of Cherry Hill, N.J., Gambino was convicted in 1984 of conspiracy to distribute heroin and possession of heroin with intent to distribute it.
He remains in prison, and could not be contacted Wednesday.
Corallo said that the committee is moving ahead even without Roger Clinton's cooperation.
"He's refusing to be interviewed," he said. "He won't come in for an interview. The lawyers have signaled that if he is called, he will plead the 5th Amendment.
"So we did what we had to do in sending him that letter, when he was thumbing his nose at us.
"And we don't really want to focus only on Roger Clinton," he said. "We don't care just about Roger. But when he goes on TV and says he did nothing about getting pardons for money, that's just not true.
"We know he put names forward to his brother for help."