A document recently released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reveals the intricate details of a clemency request for John Factor, also known as “Jack Factor,” “Jake Factor,” “J. Franklyn,” and infamously “Jake the Barber,” who was pardoned by President John F. Kennedy in December 1962. The document is a letter of advice from the Attorney General to the President, discussing the merits and background of Factor’s pardon application.
John Factor, convicted in 1942 for orchestrating a complex mail fraud scheme involving whisky warehouse receipts, served a 10-year sentence and was released on parole in 1949. The document enclosed with the FOIA release letter, dated December 17, 1962, provides a comprehensive narrative of Factor’s criminal activities and subsequent efforts for rehabilitation. It recounts how Factor, after emigrating from England to Chicago, became embroiled in the criminal underworld, culminating in a swindle that relieved an elderly widow of $280,000.00, of which Factor’s share was $100,000.00. Using this capital, he established a fraudulent operation that eventually led to his conviction.
The letter to the President includes a poignant summary of Factor’s crimes: “In conducting these operations, Factor and his associates were absolutely ruthless. They never dropped a victim until the victim was completely stripped. They specialized in gullible, elderly people… Every operation was a complete personal tragedy for the victim” (p. 6). Despite the severity of his crimes, the document outlines Factor’s attempts at restitution, his payment of substantial tax liabilities, and his contributions to society post-incarceration.
The Attorney General’s letter highlights Factor’s transformation, noting his philanthropic endeavors and stating, “He is a successful businessman who bears a good reputation and who apparently needs a pardon of a conviction recorded against him eighteen years ago in order for him to become a citizen of the United States” (p. 11). The document concludes with a recommendation for clemency, asserting that “the ends of justice would not be ill-served by extending clemency to him at this time” and advising that Factor be granted a full and unconditional pardon (p. 12).
Background and Impact
John Factor’s pardon by President Kennedy was a significant event, given Factor’s notoriety as “Jake the Barber” and his alleged involvement in a staged kidnapping with the Touhy gang, which later became a subject of controversy and litigation. The document sheds light on the complex considerations behind presidential pardons, balancing the scales of justice with the potential for personal reform.
This release provides a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the Department of Justice and the weighty decisions faced by the highest levels of government. It underscores the multifaceted nature of clemency, where the law, public interest, and individual transformation intersect.
The full document, now available to the public, offers an in-depth look at one of the many clemency cases from the Kennedy administration, illustrating the enduring complexity of the presidential pardon power.
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