Watching President Barack Obama grant the traditional "pardon" to a Thanksgiving turkey got me thinking about my friend Dan Hanks. Dan has been asking for a presidential pardon since April 2003. I think he deserves one.
Since the early 80's Daniel Joseph Portley-Hanks has conducted undercover investigations for our government, specifically the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Along with his private investigation partner, the late Fred Valis, Hanks helped the feds crack a multitude of major cases that put away dozens of career criminals.
Dan Hanks was born on July 13, 1946 to an Irish Catholic Family, the youngest of ten children. They lived in Southern California and after Dan's badly wounded and emotionally broken father returned from duty as a Merchant Seaman at the end of World War II he committed suicide when Dan was still in diapers. The widow and her children's hardscrabble life forced them to move constantly. When Dan was ten his mom married a man who appeared to be an upstanding fellow. In private, Dan says, his step-father was an alcoholic, child molester who preyed on every one of the siblings. Dan quickly learned to make the streets his home and as a result he survived by his wits. A second child predator -- another man who masqueraded as someone who cared -- got Dan in his clutches. Once again the sharp thinking boy escaped with his emotional well being damaged but intact.
Right before Thanksgiving 1963, at the age of just 17, Dan joined the U.S. Navy to escape the pain of his life. Unfortunately, a medical condition forced him to take an honorable discharge within a year and his chance at a "normal" life was gone. Back on the streets Dan was arrested multiple times for auto and property theft, burglary and for being in possession of stolen checks. He served multiple sentences in prisons with names like Chino, Lompoc, San Quentin, Terminal Island and Soledad. But in prison he began to turn his life around earning his high school diploma and teaching classes to others. Dan realized if he used his brain to rise from convict to crime fighter he might -- just might -- be able to make a new life for himself. And that's what he set out to do.
After his release Dan worked closely with Valis and they ultimately established Backstreet Investigations. They operated under Valis' P.I. license since an ex-con like Hanks wasn't eligible for one. After reading an article in Playboy magazine about federal law enforcement needing outsiders to go undercover they enthusiastically applied to help catch "the bad guys." The pair was wildly successful in making drug, gambling, racketeering and even murder cases for more than two decades. They first worked for the DEA, and were later recruited by the FBI to infiltrate the bookmaking arm of the Gambino crime family, a four year case which led to the arrest and convictions of more than 80 people.
It became important to Dan that he clear his record. He went after getting his own California P.I. license and in 2004 a court finally ordered he be awarded one. However, Hank's petitions for both a state and presidential pardon have never been answered. For eight years he's heard nothing from the government he's worked so hard for as a crime fighter.
Interesting, when you look back at the history of those who have gotten pardons.
President Bill Clinton granted the favor to 16 members of FALN a violent Puerto Rican terror group that detonated 120 deadly bombs across America. Richard Nixon pardoned corrupt Teamster's chief Jimmy Hoffa in 1971. President Gerald Ford then pardoned Nixon although the disgraced president had never actually been charged with a crime.
California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has only pardoned six people during his term but three of them, like Hanks, were men who committed non-violent crimes back in the 70's and went on to become "contributing members of their communities." For goodness sakes, Florida's outgoing Governor Charlie Crist is even considering a pardon for the long dead rock star Jim Morrison who exposed himself during a wild 1969 concert!
But Dan Hanks who's spent 25 years diligently working for the DEA and FBI can't get a pardon?
I've known Hanks for more than 15 years. He is a trustworthy friend who, among other things, once dropped everything to travel thousands of miles on his own dime to help me track down a dangerous child molester for an article I was writing. I've known him to dig in his own nearly empty pocket to help others buy groceries and to help a kid with a dream of becoming a singer reach her potential. You'd want him for your next door neighbor and I'm thankful that he came into my life.
The turkey President Obama granted a ceremonial pardon to last year was named Courage. I hope this year Obama and Schwarzenegger have the courage to give Dan Hanks a break. He's long overdue for one.
Diane Dimond may be reached through her web site: www.DianeDimond.com Her latest book is "Cirque Du Salahi" available on Amazon.com
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