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Man Whom Clinton Pardoned Enters Plea

March 03, 2004|David Rosenzweig | Times Staff Writer

A former Marina del Rey executive, who received a controversial pardon from President Clinton for a 1980s fraud conviction, pleaded guilty in Los Angeles federal court Tuesday to new charges of conspiring to evade millions of dollars in corporate income taxes.

Under a plea agreement negotiated with prosecutors, herbal remedy magnate Almon Glenn Braswell will receive an 18-month prison term provided he makes good on a promise to pay $10.4 million in back taxes, penalties and interest to the Internal Revenue Service.

Braswell, who now lives in Miami Beach, was the sole shareholder of Gero Vita International, considered at one time the biggest direct marketer of dietary supplements in the United States, with annual revenue approaching $200 million.

But the 60-year-old entrepreneur also had a criminal past. In 1983, he spent seven months in prison after being convicted of fraud and perjury. Eager to remove the blot from his name, he sought a presidential pardon

On Jan. 20, 2001, his last day in office, Clinton signed an order granting Braswell a pardon. Later it was disclosed that Braswell had paid Clinton's brother-in-law, Hugh Rodham, $200,000 to lobby the White House. Clinton and his wife, Hillary, denied any knowledge of the payment and demanded that Rodham return the money.

The Internal Revenue Service investigation that resulted in Tuesday's guilty plea was launched two years before Braswell received his presidential pardon.

Prosecutors said the tax-evasion scheme involved the issuing of bogus invoices to Gero Vita by a Bermuda shell company that Braswell owned, DeLeon Global Trading Ltd.

The company claimed to have sold Gero Vita millions of dollars' worth of raw materials, which Braswell then wrote off as business expenses.

Also indicted in the billing scam was Braswell's accountant, Robert Bruce Miller, 46, of Canyon Country. Because of Miller's failing health, federal prosecutors agreed Tuesday to drop charges against him without prejudice.

A second alleged accomplice, William E. Frantz, 65, a lawyer from Marietta, Ga., is scheduled to go on trial in Los Angeles federal court next month. Braswell was accused of funneling millions of dollars through Frantz's law firm to secret offshore accounts.

Frantz, who served as Braswell's personal tax preparer, is charged with failing to report the diverted funds as income on Braswell's tax returns.

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