Ex-councilman Udin seeks pardon

| Thursday, July 27, 2006

Former Pittsburgh Councilman Sala Udin, who has a criminal record dating to 1968 for vehicle offenses, firearms violations, robbery and receiving stolen goods, is seeking a pardon in a hearing today in Harrisburg.

Udin, who is CEO of the Coros Center for Civic Leadership, and several partners are seeking a license to supply slot machines when casinos are built. He would have to undergo a background check, but his attorney said Wednesday that Udin's desire to erase his criminal past has nothing to do with his involvement with Gaming Ventures LLC.

Udin applied for a pardon July 8, 2004, said his lawyer Wendell Freeland. The Legislature passed the gambling law four days earlier.

"This has nothing to do with slots," Freeland said. "It has to do with him wanting to be judged on his impeccable record of public service for 35 years and not for mistakes he made as a young man in his 20s."

Udin, 63, of the Hill District, didn't return calls seeking comment. He will learn today whether the four-member Board of Pardons approves his application and grants him a September hearing.

Freeland said neither he nor his client would attend today's hearing.

John Heaton, secretary of the state Board of Pardons, said yesterday that if two of four members vote in favor of Udin's application, a pardon hearing will be scheduled for the board's Sept. 14 meeting. Udin, his lawyer and anyone for or against granting the pardon would be permitted to appear and testify then.

If a majority of members approve his application in September, the board would recommend the pardon to Gov. Ed Rendell, who would make the final decision.

Between 2000 and 2005, the board received 2,946 applications. Slightly more than half were granted a hearing, and 619 pardon applications -- 21 percent of those who applied -- received a governor's pardon.

According to Udin's application, he acknowledges being sentenced in February 1969 in Allegheny County to three months' probation after being convicted of a firearms violations stemming from a Jan. 10, 1968, arrest in Pittsburgh.

Police stopped Udin's car in the Hill District because they thought the vehicle was stolen, and Udin had a loaded, unlicensed handgun in the car, according to a police report from the time.

Udin -- whose legal name is Samuel Wesley Howze -- was arrested again two months later. That police report said he was driving on Bigelow Boulevard in Oakland when his car hit a pedestrian at an intersection.

In his application for a pardon, Udin denies hitting a pedestrian. Pittsburgh officers investigating the accident on March 27, 1968, discovered Udin didn't have a valid driver's license. The driver's license violation was dismissed, and Udin wasn't charged with injuring a pedestrian.

In January 1969, Udin was with three other men in a parked car in front of an Oakland bank when officers approached and asked for his license.

Udin, who admits in his application that he didn't have a valid driver's license, handed police officers a license belonging to his nephew, Roland Howze. His nephew had been robbed two weeks earlier, and Udin was charged with that robbery, receiving stolen goods and driving without a valid license, according to a police report. He was convicted only on the charge of receiving stolen property and sentenced to nine months' probation.

Udin has always maintained that his criminal past involved arrests for violations at civil rights protests and marches in the South. He was indicted Sept. 30, 1970, in Louisville, Ky., for illegally transporting firearms and possession of non-taxpaid distilled spirits. He was sentenced to five years at a federal penitentiary and began serving his sentence at a prison in Lewisburg, Union County, on Feb. 4, 1972. Seven months later, he was paroled.

"Since my arrest in Kentucky in 1970, I have remained crime free," Udin wrote in his pardon application. "That is almost 35 years. I got married, raised my children and became a productive member of the community."

His statement says his "responsible, productive contributions to the community have clearly demonstrated that I am a changed man," and that his criminal record limits his "ability to achieve my highest potential."

In addition to his three terms as a City Council member -- from 1995 to 2005 -- and his work as a civil rights advocate, Udin said he spent 13 years as executive director of a drug rehabilitation agency. He founded the House of Crossroads, a residential drug-treatment center in the Hill District, in 1969.

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