A passion for hunting prompted his pursuit of pardon
MAHOMET – Richard Culpepper is living proof that good things come to those who wait. He has a renewed faith in his government to do the right thing. And he can't wait to go hunting.
The 52-year-old Mahomet man learned Monday from a television news reporter that he had received a pardon from President Bush for a 1987 federal conviction he received for making a false claim to the government.
And since then, he's been enjoying the limelight, sharing the story of his six-year quest to get a pardon because he wanted to be able to hunt with friends.
"My first priority is my family, and after that it's hunting and my dogs," he said.
Even though it took him six years and exceptional patience, Culpepper said he would advise anyone else similarly situated to try.
"You don't just apply for the pardon and stop. It's a process. You have to continually keep your eye on the goal, and that is to get the pardon," Culpepper said.
His story really started back in the mid-1980s, when, as a worker for the Sante Fe railroad in Chillicothe, he was laid off.
"A lot of guys were taking their unemployment and still working other jobs. I tried it, and I got caught," he said.
In his late 20s then, Culpepper said, the $125 a week he was collecting in unemployment was not enough to support himself, much less his two children.
"I was working at two bowling alleys, tending bar and cleaning up to make extra money. Somebody turned me in," he said, never seeing his accuser in person.
He's fuzzy on some details but remembers being at a friend's house playing pool when he received a call from the FBI telling him to come to the federal courthouse in Peoria.
"They knew more about me than I knew myself. It would scare the hell out of you to know what they know about you," he said of the federal agents.
"They told me I had the right to remain silent. I sat down and talked to them and gave them a full statement. They said, 'Why did you do that?' and I said I did it so I could take care of my family."
He said they booked him, and told him to go home and obtain a lawyer. He's pretty sure it was summertime because it was hot out.
In October 1987, he pleaded guilty to violating a federal law prohibiting making a false claim to a federal agency. In January 1988, he was sentenced to five years of probation, fined and ordered to make restitution to the Railroad Retirement Board and the Bureau of Unemployment and Sickness Insurance.
Culpepper, who grew up in East Peoria, one of eight children, said the job for the Sante Fe Railroad lasted until the end of 1990. He moved his family to Oregon, where they ran a pizza shop for about a year until returning to Illinois. Back in Mount Vernon, the same friend he was playing pool with when the feds caught up with him called him to see if he wanted to go back to the railroad. He did, working from 1993 to 2002 for the Toledo, Peoria and Western Railroad, based in East Peoria.
In 2002, he landed a job with Illinois Central Railroad, which brought him to Mahomet. That same year, he got a new dog.
"I went to buy a new shotgun to go with my dog," he said. Although he had twice been granted a firearm owner's identification card by the state of Illinois, the third time he sought one, he was denied.
"After that, I started this process. I called the U.S. pardon attorney in Washington, D.C., every year in April and November," he said, the end and beginning of the hunting season.
"I would say, 'When can I expect this?' They'd tell me the same thing every time. 'You can't expect this because we don't know when it will show up.' Every time they'd tell me it's pending. It means somebody has it sitting on their desk in Washington, D.C., and as soon as somebody decides to move, it will happen," he said.
The process Culpepper referred to involved an initial application of about 60 pages.
"They wanted to know where you lived, worked, who you associated with. You couldn't associate with known felons." And if more or corrected information was needed, the application was sent back to him – "several times."
They even contacted three of his sisters for information.
"The key part is that I was working all those years. One thing the government wanted to know was are you employed and paying taxes, going to church, are you doing things in your community to help out," he said.
Culpepper kept track of his numerous contacts with the office over the years.
"I never let it get out of their sight. But I didn't pressure them too much because if you do, they'll put a rubber stamp on it and say you're denied. I was never mean or upset with them. I just politely talked and gave them all the information I had. They called me from time to time and asked if any information was different. The lady was extremely nice."
Culpepper said he was never willing to give up, especially looking on the Web site for that office and seeing who else was getting pardons.
"They were giving pardons to people committing violent crimes – bank robberies, shooting people. It was amazing. I prayed a lot," he added.
But he still wanted to hunt, especially when friends took their annual trips in December and January to Indiana.
"They would hunt, and I would have to watch the dogs because I couldn't hunt," he said.
Off work since March 2007 on disability for a back injury he received in 2004 while working for the IC, Culpepper is even more anxious to be able to get back to his hobby.
But it may be a little while before he can apply for a new firearm owner's identification card.
"I have to wait for the paperwork from the president. I would imagine it would be some formal declaration of a pardon. They said, 'Can you wait?' I said, 'Yeah, I can wait. A few more days is not going to hurt anything.'"