By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 12, 2008
In 1985, authorities barged into an Air Force Academy dormitory room and arrested cadet Andrew F. Harley on marijuana and cocaine charges. Harley, who had followed his brother to the academy, was convicted in a court-martial, expelled and sentenced to military confinement.
Two weeks ago, Harley, now 43 and living in Falls Church, received lottery-like news: Among a deluge of applicants, he was one of 14 to secure a pardon from President Bush and the only one from the Washington area. The executive action Nov. 24, just before Thanksgiving, amounts to an official statement of forgiveness for the long-ago and relatively minor offense.
Harley, who also has been known as Andrew F. Smith, is like a lot of people granted presidential clemency. Most of those benefiting from pardons or commutations are ordinary citizens rather than a disgraced president (Richard M. Nixon), a well-known rapper (John Forté) or a fugitive financier (Marc Rich). And there is no evidence that Harley pulled Washington levers for the pardon. No lawyer advocated his petition. He simply asked three friends to write letters on his behalf.
But the pardon is just part of Harley's ongoing drama. Although the 13 others who won the coveted decision that day might be in some state of unadulterated celebration, Harley is contending with a messy legal spat involving an Alexandria businessman, the businessman's estranged wife and their 19-year-old son.
The dispute in Fairfax County court even includes an allegation, in a lawsuit filed during the summer, that Harley sought to sell marijuana to the teenager. Harley's lawyer in that case said he was not aware of the allegation until he was told by a reporter. In the suit, businessman Ronnie Durham also alleges that Harley defamed him and raises questions about a romantic relationship between Harley and Durham's wife. Separately, Harley has accused Durham of criminal harassment.
Harley declined to comment for this article, and Durham denied the harassment charge.
Margaret Love, the U.S. pardon attorney from 1990 to 1997, said that because presidents issue very few pardons, expectations are high for the character of those who receive them. Bush has issued 171 pardons. President Ronald Reagan granted 393, and President Jimmy Carter issued 534. President Harry S. Truman handed out 1,913.
"There's no question in my mind that if federal investigators had seen these court documents, they probably would have held the case up," Love said. "On the other hand, if these suits only happened in August, you can hardly fault the Justice Department or FBI for not knowing about it. If there's a take-away, it's, 'Do more, Mr. President.' "
It is unknown whether federal authorities became aware of the Harley-Durham dispute during his background check or whether the matter would have influenced their recommendation to Bush. U.S. Pardon Attorney Ronald L. Rodgers declined to comment on Harley's case through a Justice Department spokeswoman.
Harley's mother, Jacqueline Harrington, recounted the drug offense that started the case. She said she was getting ready for bed one night in 1985 when her mother called frantically. "She was hysterical, and she screamed, 'Turn on the TV,' " recalled Harrington, who lives in California. "My mother was screaming over the phone that Andrew was a drug dealer. I was terribly upset, because I am a well-known teacher in our school district."
Harrington then got a call from her son. "I told him, 'What can I do?' " Harrington recalled. "I tried to comfort him. I told him it was a foolish mistake. As a teacher, I know how kids that age would get together."
She said Harley and three other cadets wanted to experiment with marijuana. One of them, she said, procured a tiny stash. "They brought it back and smoked it, but a fourth young man said God had told him that he should tell on them," she said. "It was very scary, because then these men came in barging into their dorm room with guns out. They went through his overhead and found a small stub of a marijuana cigarette."
She added: "There was no cocaine involved."
Maj. Bryan Watson, a spokesman for the Air Force judge advocate general's office at the Pentagon, said Harley was convicted of wrongful use and distribution of marijuana and cocaine. On April 17, 1985, Harley was sentenced to eight months of confinement and dismissed from the service. His sentence was ultimately reduced to 90 days.
Harrington said her son was shaken. All his life, she said, Harley wanted to emulate his older brother Stuart, an Air Force Academy graduate and pilot who she said died on duty while based in Japan. "I don't like to talk about it," she said.
After his dismissal, Harley, then known as Andrew F. Smith, transferred to California Polytechnic State University, where he earned a social sciences degree in 1990. He received a master's degree in social welfare from the University of California at Berkeley in 1994.
He later married and has two children, 6 and 9 years old.
On April 27, 2005, Harley applied for a presidential pardon, according to the Justice Department.
Harrington said she learned about the application the day after the announcement of the pardon. "I received an e-mail . . . from Andrew with a copy of the article in the paper. He didn't make any comments. I was surprised. There is something about having a presidential pardon -- it sounds impressive," she said.
Several months ago, Harrington said, her son received security clearance for his job in the District with the government contractor Computer Sciences Corp. "Now, we laugh at [the drug conviction]. We refer to it as the stupid mistake."
At some point this year, troubles between Harley and Durham began escalating. Harley, according to his court filing, had become romantically involved with Durham's estranged wife, Teresa Buchanan Durham. During the summer, Harley filed a criminal complaint against Ronnie Durham, claiming that Durham was harassing him with angry e-mails.
In response, Durham filed a lawsuit seeking $16,000, alleging that Harley had defamed him with a "false" criminal complaint and that Harley had spread falsehoods about Durham to co-workers.
A Fairfax judge awarded Harley a peace bond barring Durham from contacting him. Durham's 19-year-old son, Nathan, filed an affidavit that states: "On June 16, 2008, Andrew Harley offered me marijuana to help me 'relax.' Andrew Harley said he could sell me or my mother as much as we wanted. I told him I was not interested."
Harley's attorney, Robert Zaniel, said he had not known about the drug accusation. "It's not even an allegation made by a party to the case," he said. "It sounds like some affidavit by some third-party witness who is obviously very biased and is the son of Ronnie Durham. . . . The trick is to distinguish allegation and fact." Hearings on the peace bond and defamation lawsuit are scheduled for next year.
Harley may never know why Bush chose him out of so many pardon applicants. He is one of just eight people in Maryland, the District and Virginia who have received a pardon or sentence commutation from Bush since he took office in 2001, according to an analysis by P.S. Ruckman, a political science professor at Rock Valley College in Illinois and author of the blog Pardon Power.
But Harley's friend and former boss, David Colvin, 35, a project manager at a Fairfax-based consulting firm, has a hunch about what made the difference for Harley. Colvin, who once hired Harley and admired his transparency about his past, was one of three people who wrote a supporting letter for the pardon application.
"I think," Colvin said, "that I wrote a pretty good letter."