WASHINGTON — A South Carolina man pardoned by President Bush this week had made political contributions to Rep. Bob Inglis and the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, and had hosted Inglis on a tour of his chemical plant.
Carey C. Hice was one of 14 people this week to receive a pardon from Bush, who forgives fewer people of past crimes than any of his 10 immediate predecessors going back to World War II.
Hice, 66, was convicted of income tax evasion and sentenced in March 1996 to three years' probation, with 180 days' home confinement, and required to pay a $13,000 fine.
Hice said Wednesday he was stunned when a Justice Department official called and told him he'd received a presidential pardon.
"The only way this thing happened is Jesus Christ had his hand on it," Hice said in an interview. "That's just the truth."
Hice, called "Buddy" by friends, is one of only 179 people to whom Bush has granted pardons or sentence commutations, among more than 10,000 requests.
Hice said he submitted the pardon request himself after a lawyer declined to take the case. The retiree said he downloaded an eight-page pardon form from the Justice Department Web site, completed it with a pencil — erasing mistakes as he wrote — and mailed it to Washington in 2001.
Over the next seven years, FBI agents contacted Hice's pastor, neighbors, and former business associates as part of a thorough background investigation, he said.
Although income-tax evasion isn't a felony, Hice said he wanted his record cleared.
"I'd never really been in trouble," he said. "I work a lot in my church. It was important to me to have it clean."
Inglis, a fifth-term Republican lawmaker, and Hice both live in Travelers Rest, an Upstate town of 4,237 people near Greenville, S.C.
Hice contributed $1,000 to Inglis in 1995 and gave the same amount to him in 1997. Hice contributed $1,000 to Thurmond in 1996.
Inglis on Wednesday corrected earlier statements by an aide who had said that Inglis didn’t know Hice.
Inglis said he toured Hitec Chemicals, a Travelers Rest chemical plant then owned by Hice, in the 1990s. Hice retired in spring 2007.
Hice also permitted the congressman to erect a large 2004 campaign sign on commercial property he owned, Inglis said.
Inglis, though, insisted that he had nothing to do with Bush's pardon of Hice and learned of it only after the Justice Department on Monday announced 14 pardons and two sentence commutations.
"I didn't know anything about it," Inglis said.
Inglis served three House terms in the 1990s, lost a 1998 Senate race against incumbent Fritz Hollings and regained his House seat in the 2004 election.
The congressman says the humility that loss taught him, and his Christian faith, have softened some of the hard-edged conservative views of his first congressional tenure in the 1990s.
"I believe in forgiveness and rehabilitation," Inglis said.
Inglis, 49, said he supported the past unsuccessful efforts by Willie Mays Aikens, a Seneca native and former Kansas City Royals baseball slugger, to obtain a presidential pardon.
Aikens served 14 years in prison after being convicted of selling crack cocaine. Inglis said he did not write a letter or formally intervene on Aikens' behalf, but talked about his case in an ESPN TV interview.
The Justice Department makes pardon recommendations, but a president can ignore them or pardon criminals who weren't recommended.
The White House and the Justice Department declined to comment on Hice's case.
WIPING THE SLATE CLEAN
Recent presidents have pardoned or commuted the sentences of far fewer applicants than their predecessors.
Harry Truman, Democrat: 40.4 percent granted
Richard Nixon, Republican: 35.6 percent
John F. Kennedy, Democrat: 32.7 percent
Dwight Eisenhower, Republican: 28.2 percent
Gerald Ford, Republican: 26.5 percent
Lyndon Johnson, Democrat: 26.1 percent
Jimmy Carter, Democrat: 21.4 percent
Ronald Reagan, Republican: 11.9 percent
Bill Clinton, Democrat: 6.1 percent
George H.W. Bush, Republican: 5.3 percent
George W. Bush, Republican: 1.8 percent
Source: U.S. Department of Justice