Legal

Phil Mickelson Disputes White House Claim He Supported Billy Walters Clemency Case

So, about that part of the Billy Walters clemency case where pro golfer Phil Mickelson wrote a letter in support of the retired gambler…turns out, the Trump Administration didn’t quite get that right.

Pro golfer Phil Mickelson plays in the third round of the Travers Championship in Connecticut on June 27, 2020. On Thursday, Mickelson corrected a White House report saying he submitted a statement of support for retired gambler Billy Walters, who sought federal clemency for a five-year insider trading prison sentence he received in 2017. (Image: PGA Tour)

An attorney for the 44-time winner on the PGA Tour told ESPN’s Bob Harig in no uncertain terms that did not happen.

Walters’ commutation was one of 143 clemency actions President Trump issued shortly after midnight Wednesday morning, his last day in office. In July 2017, a federal judge sentenced Walters to five years in prison for an insider trading scheme where he made millions off the sale of stock in Dean Foods.

He was originally scheduled to be released next January. But Trump’s action allowed Walters to be released on Wednesday, according to the US Bureau of Prisons registry.

According to the commutation, while Trump ended the prison sentence, he kept the one-year supervised release in effect.

“The safety of the community will not be compromised if he is released,” Trump stated.

Last spring, Walters was released from a federal detention center in Florida to serve out the remainder of his sentence at his home in Carlsbad, Calif. He qualified for the home incarceration program through a provision in the CARES Act that allowed prisoners at risk of catching COVID-19 to be sent home if they had completed at least half of their prison term.

Walters also was ordered to forfeit millions in profit, as well as pay fines and restitution to the Dallas-based dairy company. In all, authorities said Walters surrendered $44 million.

Last September, Walters filed a civil suit in the same New York federal court where he was convicted against the US Attorney and the lead FBI agent who oversaw the investigation against him.

Feds Investigated Both for Insider Trading

Mickelson and Walters had a relationship up through the investigation, though it soured as a result.

The Securities and Exchange Commission determined that Mickelson also profited from trades of Dean Foods and used the proceeds to pay back debts he owed to Walters.

Federal authorities never charged Mickelson, although they ordered him to surrender nearly $1 million he made from the transactions. While avoiding prosecution, he also avoided testifying in Walters trial, a point Walters would take exception to in later interviews.

That’s why it seemed surprising to see Mickelson’s name on the statement the Trump White House released. It was also, apparently, surprising to Mickelson and his attorney.

“The press release referencing Phil Mickelson is erroneous,” Glenn Cohen told ESPN. “The reason we are upset is because it’s untrue.”

Plenty Supported Walters’ Clemency

While Mickelson, known on the PGA Tour as “Lefty,” did not tout for Walters, scores of others did. That includes dozens of letters directly to the White House and to the judge who sentenced Walters nearly four years ago.

The list of names, according to court documents, include some of the more powerful names in Las Vegas and Nevada. It also includes a few celebrities and athletes.

Las Vegas native and Grand Slam tennis winner Andre Agassi wrote that Walters contributed nearly $400,000 toward a school the tennis pro established in an underserved area of Las Vegas.

Just a couple of months after he retired from the US Senate, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urged US District Judge Kevin Castel to keep Walters out of prison.

I am sure there are people who do not like Billy Walters, but I have not met one of them,” the Nevada Democrat wrote in April 2017. “All of whom I have had contact with regard to Billy Walters have shown nothing but positive regard toward Billy Walters and his family. I do not see how this man getting probation would, in any way, adversely affect the criminal justice system.”

Jack Binion wrote a two-page letter detailing some of the challenges Walters has faced through his life, including being raised by his grandmother in rural central Kentucky. The two men, the gaming giant said, had been friends for four decades.

“You can read about how Bill successfully entered and dominated the sports betting industry. His drive and his desire to succeed were unmatched,” Binion wrote. “As a product of Bill’s quick and decisive decision-making, he has both won and lost big over the years. I believe the general public misperceives this as recklessness, but nothing is further from the truth. This was just how Billy approached everything, with an eye toward a particular goal, never feeling completely secure or successful.”

Steve Bittenbender

Horse Racing, Sports Betting, Gaming Legislation, Midwest and Gulfport Casinos----Steve Bittenbender is a veteran reporter, and brings more than two decades of experience covering sports, gaming business, and politics and legislation to Casino.org, which he joined in 2019. Based in Louisville, Kentucky -- the epicenter of the US horse racing industry -- Steve has also covered major collegiate and professional sports for the Associated Press and the Louisville Courier Journal, and is frequently featured on local network TV newscasts and podcasts for his horse racing business and legislative expertise. A Reuters contributor, he has also previously served as editor for Government Security News. Steve lives with his wife and son, and is an avid poker player, having learned from his uncle as a wholesome after-school pasttime with cookies and milk. Email: stevebittenbender@casino.org

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