By Mary Hladky and Rich Pollack
President Donald Trump’s rush to grant clemencies before leaving office reached into Palm Beach County last month when he issued full pardons to former County Commissioner Mary McCarty and Boca Raton real estate mogul James Batmasian.
McCarty, a Republican who lives in coastal Delray Beach and launched her political career on the City Commission, pleaded guilty in 2009 to a federal charge of honest services fraud for steering bond-underwriting business to her husband and for accepting free or discounted hotel rooms from a company she backed to build a hotel at the Palm Beach County Convention Center.
She served 21 months of a 31/2-year sentence in a federal prison.
In announcing the pardons, the White House said the U.S. Supreme Court has since interpreted the honest service fraud statute more narrowly, “meaning that Ms. McCarty’s conduct might not be criminally prosecuted today.”
Her late husband, Kevin, pleaded guilty to failing to report his wife’s crime and was sentenced to eight months in federal prison. The couple paid $250,000 in restitution.
“This is very good news,” McCarty said shortly after the pardon was announced on Dec. 23. “I’m honored that the president thought enough of my case to pardon me.”
The pardon, she said, is “a vindication of sort.”
Former Delray Beach Mayor Jay Alperin, a friend of Mary McCarty’s, said he respects her for not complaining about the time she spent in prison when the Supreme Court issued its ruling.
“She deserved the pardon, although she can never retrieve what she lost,” he said.
He reimbursed the government the full amount owed from 2001 to 2003.
“I am so grateful for President Trump’s benevolence, as are all the members of my family,” Batmasian said in a statement reported by The Real Deal.
Batmasian, a Harvard-educated lawyer, and his wife, Marta, moved to coastal Boca Raton in 1983 with the intention of retiring. But they changed their minds within days and began buying properties, according to Investments Ltd.’s website.
They are now Boca Raton’s largest downtown commercial landowners, with a portfolio that includes scores of homes, condos, apartment and office buildings, warehouses and retail centers. Most are in Boca Raton, but they also own properties throughout Palm Beach and Broward counties.
Two of their signature properties are the mixed-use Royal Palm Place in downtown Boca Raton and Fifth Avenue Shops at the intersection of Federal Highway and Northeast Fifth Avenue.
The Batmasians figure prominently in the criminal case brought against former Mayor Susan Haynie.
Haynie, who has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial, was arrested in 2018 on charges of official misconduct, perjury, misuse of public office and failure to disclose voting conflicts. She faces more than 20 years in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors say that Haynie used her position on the City Council to vote on six matters that financially benefited James Batmasian and failed to disclose income she had received from him. The investigation found that Haynie failed to report $335,000 in income on financial disclosure forms required by the state, including $84,000 from Batmasian or Investments Ltd., from 2014 through 2017.
Batmasian has not been charged with a crime in the Haynie case. In a 2020 interview with The Coastal Star, Marta Batmasian vehemently denied any wrongdoing by the couple.
McCarty’s pardon was supported by former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a White House adviser, and Christopher Ruddy, a Trump confidant and West Palm Beach resident who is CEO of the conservative media company Newsmax, the White House said.
McCarty’s brother is Brian Ballard, one of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington and a top Trump fundraiser. He is a member of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, has known Trump for years and has played a role in his political activities, including his re-election effort, the Wall Street Journal has reported.
Bondi is a partner with Ballard’s lobbying firm, Ballard Partners.
Asked whether her brother’s close relationship with Trump played a role in her pardon, McCarty said, “It didn’t hurt.”
But McCarty said she has her own relationship with Trump, dating back to when she served on the County Commission as Trump was making plans for a Palm Beach County golf course.
“I always had a good relationship with the president when he was establishing a golf course here,” she said.
McCarty believes that Trump was personally involved in the decision to pardon her. “I think it was all him,” she said.
The White House said Batmasian’s pardon was supported by U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, criminal justice reform advocate Alice Johnson, and golfer Bernhard Langer, a reported friend of Trump.
“Mr. Batmasian accepted full responsibility for his actions, fully repaid the IRS the money he owed, and served his 8-month sentence,” the release said. It also cited Batmasian’s charitable works.
The Batmasians’ philanthropy includes the James H & Marta T Batmasian Family Foundation, which they have said supports more than 65 organizations.
James Batmasian also invests in opportunity zones, an initiative created as part of the tax overhaul Congress passed and Trump supported in 2017. They offer investors big savings in capital gains tax if they invest in poor neighborhoods. Critics fault the zones for gentrifying neighborhoods rather than helping Black communities.
Trump has touted the program in speeches as an example of how he is helping struggling African-Americans. Batmasian attended a ribbon cutting for a Charlotte, North Carolina, opportunity zone in September, according to an Investments Ltd. news release. In the release, Batmasian praised the zones, saying “the ability to make a direct local impact is truly powerful.”
Among those supporting Batmasian’s pardon was Doug Mummaw, a Boca Raton architect who frequently works with Investments Ltd. on new projects and renovations.
Mummaw said that Batmasian’s company asked him to write a letter of recommendation for a pardon.
“I fully support it,” he said. “Since I have come to know Jim and served on nonprofit boards with him, I have seen him help so many. … Jim is a very kind man, very giving.” A presidential pardon restores rights lost as a result of being convicted of a federal crime, such as the right to vote, hold state or local office or serve as a juror. It may lessen the stigma of a conviction, but does not erase or expunge the record of the conviction. It may also be helpful in obtaining licenses, bonding or employment and could make it easier to get financing from a bank.