On the morning of Jan. 20, Gary Hendler woke up to find that he was among the 73 people who received a pardon from outgoing President Donald Trump.
“I went online, and I looked at the list. I saw names like Steve Bannon, Lil Wayne or Kim — whoever that artist is — and some other people, and then I came to my name,” said Hendler, 67. “And I absolutely couldn’t believe it.”
Hendler, who lives in Ardmore, hosts the “Clean & Sober Radio” show on WWDB-AM, and serves on the Pennsylvania Advisory Council on Drug and Alcohol Abuse. In 1984, Hendler was convicted of conspiracy to distribute and dispense controlled substances, several years after he’d gotten sober. Since then, the Suburban Real Estate Co. owner has dedicated his time to helping others find their way to sobriety. Still, his status as a convicted felon lingered. Until Jan. 20, that is.
Hendler spoke about receiving the pardon and what comes next.
Who was the first person you wanted to tell?
My wife. And then I wanted to tell everybody my story, you know what I mean? I couldn’t believe it. The feeling I got — I don’t know what this would be like — but if you found that you hit a lottery of major money. And you’re in shock. I jumped out of bed. I start walking around the house, I couldn’t even believe it. ’Cause I’ve been waiting so long for this.
What does the pardon mean for you in a legal sense, and what does it mean for you personally?
Legally, all of my rights have been restored to me. I had a federal felony conviction, and all my rights have been restored. For a personal reason, it is the final chapter of the life that I led in addiction and criminal activities. It’s closure.
What were you barred from doing prior to the pardon?
The only thing that I was barred from were my gun rights. And nothing else. You know, I’m sure if I applied for a job with the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, something like that would be a problem, but it hasn’t stopped me from getting any kind of licensing that I’ve gotten in my real estate
At what point did you start to think about a pardon?
It was a little over six years ago. It was in June of 2016.
You know, I don’t know the answer to that. I was given the name of an attorney by the name of Margaret Love, who was an attorney in the Clinton administration. She handled the pardons then. And I had been in touch with her for several years prior to 2016. And I said to myself, “Hey, this looks like a good time to do it.” And I actually thought that Hillary Clinton was going to become president. And I have a lot of personal connections to her.
Little did I know that she was not going to win. And so that went down the tubes. But what pushed me was thinking that she would become president and I would get a pardon from her.
What does it feel like that the pardon came from an administration you didn’t support?
It made it that much more surreal, I guess, that he actually gave me a pardon. He doesn’t know me, but I knew that my story and my record are really good. And I was hoping, during his administration, that he was going to give legitimate pardons out. And it felt like he just gave them out to famous people, or people with money. I, at that point, figured that’s not going to happen to me, I’m not going to get it. So I was actually in the midst of trying to figure out the best way for me to get to the Biden administration.
Your application mentioned that you led Alcoholics Anonymous meetings at Main Line Reform Temple. Do you still do that?
I don’t, no. I led it for 33 or 34 years, and other people are leading it now. But it still goes on. It still goes on.