According to Business Insider, in his final day in office, former President Donald Trump pardoned Jonathan Braun, a Staten Island resident serving a 10-year sentence for money laundering and running an international marijuana smuggling ring.
Braun’s pardon disrupted the Justice Department’s investigation into the predatory lending industry. The Justice Department was negotiating a deal with Braun to expedite his sentence in exchange for his cooperation in a separate probe into the merchant cash advance industry.
In the merchant cash advance business, lenders provide financing to cash-strapped borrowers, often small businesses, with high-interest rates and fees. Braun’s pardon came as a surprise as he was a valuable asset for the Justice Department’s investigation into predatory lending.
Braun, released from jail after a year and a half as part of a plea deal, spent the next decade leading a predatory lending operation, advancing about $80 million to small businesses at interest rates exceeding 1,000% yearly
The Justice Department hoped to secure a deal with Braun, commuting his sentence in exchange for information on other predatory lenders and potential cooperation such as wearing a wire. However, the deal fell apart following Trump’s pardon. Braun’s connection to the Kushner family, particularly through his attendance at Kushner Yeshiva High School and friendship with Jared Kushner’s sister, Nicole, played a role in gaining clemency. Braun’s cousin, Isaac Wolf, reportedly indicated that Braun’s father sought help from Charles Kushner to secure the pardon.
Trump’s decision to pardon Braun, despite his involvement in illegal activities and the ongoing investigations, raised questions about the vetting process for pardons during his administration. The pardon also highlighted the influence of personal connections on Trump’s decision-making. Braun’s case underscores the complex intersection of criminal justice, personal relationships, and the exercise of presidential pardon powers.