California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has been selected by former Vice President Joe Biden to be his Secretary of Health and Human Services in a prospective Biden administration, contacted not only then-U.S. attorney Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security, about commuting the sentence of a convicted drug trafficker whose father had donated thousands of dollars to Becerra’s campaigns, but also the Bill Clinton White House. The drug trafficker, Carlos Vignali, ended up receiving a commutation from Clinton in January 2001.
Horacio Vignali, whose son Carlos was in prison, sought help from politicians including then-Congressman Becerra to have his son released. A 2002 House report stated, “Congressman Becerra conceded that the Vignalis were not members of his constituency but that Horacio had been a friend and contributor of his for five years,” delineating donations of roughly “$11,000 to his political action committee between 1998 and 2001, $2,475 to his congressional campaigns, and $3,500 toward his subsequent failed bid for Los Angeles mayor,” as Fox News reported.
Salon wrote in February 2001 of Carlos Vignali: “According to federal prosecutors and police investigators, Vignali was the kingpin in a lucrative drug ring that shipped hundreds of pounds of cocaine from Los Angeles to Minnesota. … It was more than luck or Clinton compassion that sprung Vignali after he had served six years. His rich daddy, an Argentinian immigrant named Horacio Vignali, dumped tens of thousands of dollars into the campaign coffers of some of California’s top politicians. Two of them — the former speaker of the California assembly, Antonio Villaraigosa, and Rep. Xavier Becerra — are leading contenders in Los Angeles’ upcoming mayoral election.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that Becerra admitted that Horacio Vignali had asked him to aid his son. Becerra asked Mayorkas whether Carlos’ sentence could be commuted. Mayorkas reportedly contacted the Clinton White House about the issue.
Mayorkas also contacted Pardon Attorney Roger Adams in October 1998 about the issue. In November 2000, Becerra wrote to the Clinton White House, “In the interest of redeeming the life of a young man, I respectfully urge you to weigh a few factors in Mr. Vignali’s favor,” even contacting the White House on Clinton’s last day in office.
Bill Clinton gave a commutation to Carlos Vignali on the last day of his administration, when he granted one-third of all the pardons granted throughout his presidential term.
“Becerra later claimed that he was not actively seeking Vignali’s release, but wanted a review of the case. Former Associate White House Counsel Meredith Cabe, however, described Becerra’s actions as ‘advocacy,’” Fox News reported. “According to the House report, Vignali’s clemency petition contained false representations, including the claim that this was a first-time offense, despite having had a previous criminal record.”
The Department of Justice listed Carlos Vignali as having been charged with:
Conspiracy to distribute cocaine, using facilities in interstate commerce with intent to promote a business enterprise involving narcotics, and illegal use of communication facility to facilitate commission of controlled substance offense.
He was sentenced July 17, 1995 to 175 months’ imprisonment, five years’ supervised release. The terms of Clinton’s commutation for Carlos Vignali were: Sentence of imprisonment to expire immediately, on the condition that he be subject to a special condition of drug testing during his period of supervised release.