“One of the problems with the process was the inequality of access,” said a former White House lawyer who asked to speak anonymously because he remains in government. “People with resources hire lawyers, sometimes former U.S. attorneys or former White House lawyers. It’s inherently unfair because the volume of applications is high and it’s easy to pull one out of the stack with a call.”
Critz’s father and grandfather built the family dealerships in Savannah into a multimillion-dollar business. In the 1980s, hoping to gain experience, Critz went to Florida to work at a dealership outside the family orbit.
Earning a promotion required selling as many as 20 cars per month. Critz, then in his mid-20s, fell in with a group of salesmen who developed a scheme to boost sales, records show. They placed newspaper ads appealing to customers with poor credit. When the potential buyers came in, the salesman put false income information on the loan applications. The deals went through and the salesmen met their quotas, but the purchasers were on the hook for payments they could not afford.
Critz pleaded guilty in 1989 to falsifying one such loan, cooperated with federal prosecutors and testified against his co-workers. He was sentenced to three years’ probation and allowed to live near his parents in Georgia.
By 1993, Critz and his wife, Debbie, were featured in Savannah Magazine as one of the city’s three “power couples.” Today, he is a well-known businessman and philanthropist who sponsors an annual half-marathon on Tybee Island in Kingston’s district. He chaired the local United Way campaign and was appointed to two local boards by the Savannah City Council.
Critz’s good works made a case for his pardon, and he had need — two factors the pardons office considers. The federal conviction stood in the way of his taking over the family franchises, which included BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Buick dealerships.
But federal officials investigating his application were disturbed by other aspects of his life, including a 1975 drunken-driving conviction and a 1982 arrest for allegedly standing on a car and being disrespectful to a police officer. On his pardon application, Critz failed to disclose those events, according to Justice Department memos. During an FBI interview, he also failed to mention that between 1998 and 2000, he had used a firearm to hunt birds. Agents had discovered that he had a hunting license during that period. Federally convicted felons are barred from possessing firearms.
In addition, Critz’s driver’s license had been suspended three times before his 1989 conviction. In the years that followed, he was cited for speeding or other traffic violations 10 times.
Kingston vouched for Critz in a 2003 letter to Adams. Describing Critz as an “exemplary citizen,” Kingston wrote, “I have known Dale for twelve years and believe that he deserves a pardon.”
The congressman also shared a copy of the letter with Paul Murphy, then associate deputy attorney general and one of Adams’s bosses at the Justice Department. Murphy forwarded the letter to Adams with a note: “Let’s discuss when you have a moment.”