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Bush pardons include Miami man who helped in the struggle to create Israel

President Bush today granted pardons to 19 individuals and commutation of sentence to one person. The Florida names include the late Charles Thompson Winters of Miami.

His offense: Conspiracy to export, and exportation, of a military aircraft to a foreign country in violation of the Neutrality Act of 1939. Translation: Helping to fly weapons to the Jews in Palestine, fighting for what would later become Israel. According to the White House he was sentenced in 1949 in Florida to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine

Nearly 25 years after his death, his son, Jimmy, began working on what he considered the ultimate gift to his father: a presidential pardon.

He had the help of a bi-partisan letter signed by 21 members of Congress urging for the pardon, led by Democratic Rep. Ron Klein. The Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County had also asked for the pardon.

"President Bush made the right decision today to issue a posthumous pardon to Charles Winters, a Florida resident who played an essential role in the creation of the state of Israel," Klein said.

Other Florida pardons: Steve Doyle Cavender of The Villages. His offense: Conspiring to import, possess, distribute and dispense marijuana; importing and causing to be imported marijuana; possessing marijuana with intent to distribute. According to the White House, he was sentenced in August 1973 in Alabama to 6 months in prison in a "jail-type institution", five years of probation and two years of special parole.

Richard Harold Miller of Tallahassee. His offense: Conspiracy to defraud the United States. He was sentenced in 1993 in Florida to 5 five years of probation and a $10,000 fine.

Here's the story the Herald wrote last August on Jimmy Winters' effort: 

Author: DIANA MOSKOVITZ, dmoskovitz@MiamiHerald.com
Weapons for sale, prison time and secret air missions halfway around the world.

All made up the hidden life of Charles Winters , an average guy, quiet, who never spoke with his children about those years just after World War II.

His son, Jimmy Winters of Miami, discovered the details of his father's adventures only after Charles Winters died in 1984. Before then, there were just some small clues.

As when teenage Jimmy asked his father to buy him a gun so he could go hunting with his buddies in the Everglades. His dad said no, that he wasn't allowed to buy guns.

He didn't add that it was because he was a convicted felon.

"That was the first hint I had that something had happened," said Jimmy Winters , 44.

In the late 1940s, nearly everyone in this area's large Jewish community, in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, wanted to help in the struggle to create Israel.

But Charles Winters was a Protestant from Boston. When it was all over, he was the only man to serve time. He served 18 months in prison for his help flying weapons to the Jews in Palestine, fighting for what would later become Israel.

Charles Winters received no money for his clandestine work, according to the stories his son was told. Charles did it as a favor for his Jewish friends.

Now, nearly 25 years after his father's death, his son is working on what he considers the ultimate gift to his father: a presidential pardon.

He hopes to get that with the help of letter signed by 21 members of Congress urging for the pardon, lead by Democratic Rep. Ron Klein, whose district stretches almost the entire length of coastal Broward and Palm Beach counties. The lead Republican was U.S. Rep. Connie Mack of Fort Myers.

The Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County also has asked for the pardon.

"It's a really great moral story. It's not just Jews and non-Jews, not just black or white. This is how a person felt, and he was a great friend to his Jewish friends who needed him at the time," Jimmy Winters said. "It would make a great movie."

After World War II, Charles Winters got into the airplane business, buying decommissioned military cargo airplanes and using them for shipping products like fruit, his son said.

In the 1940s, friend Al Schwimmer was shipping arms to Jews who were fighting to start their own state in what was then known as Palestine, an area controlled by the British.

Schwimmer would go on to become a founding father of Israel's aircraft industry.

Charles Winters , a Protestant, could get his planes out of the country relatively unnoticed, his son said. In 1948, three of his planes took off from Miami for Puerto Rico on flights meant to mimic a typical produce run.

The planes did stop in Puerto Rico. But they kept going, first to the Azores then to Czechoslovakia, where the group picked up the weapons, Jimmy Winters said.

From Europe, they flew into Palestine, dropping off the weapons and the airplanes, then returning to the United States.

Months later, someone turned Winters in -- probably someone trying to avoid prison time, Jimmy Winters guesses. Charles Winters was convicted under the U.S. Neutrality Act and spent 18 months in prison.

"The only one who was sent to jail was Charlie," said Al Schwimmer's wife, Rina. "Because the judge said, 'OK, those guys were Jews, and they did it for national reasons. . . . But Charlie must have done it for other reasons, which he didn't. He didn't get a penny.".

He was released on Nov. 17, 1949, and settled into a quiet life in Miami. He stayed in the exporting business, married his wife Joan, and started a family.

He never talked to Jimmy about that part of his life.

Charles Winters died in 1984. He was 71. Jimmy Winters was 19.

"'When he died, the funeral parlor was full of Israeli flags and blue and white flowers. This Israeli official came to escort my mom back to Israel for a ceremony there," Winters said. 'And I thought, 'Wow, this is big time.' At that point, I realized how important he was to the Israeli community."

In the following days, his mother was whisked away to Israel, where her husband's ashes would be scattered.

And Jimmy Winters began probing his father's past. He talked to people who came for the funeral. He talked to Schwimmer and other friends of his father's. He read a letter from then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir sent in 1961 inviting his father to the opening in Israel of a memorial to those who fought for Israel.

But despite all the laurels, Charles Winters still carried the label of convicted felon.

So Jimmy Winters said he reached out to a childhood friend-turned-Washington lawyer. With his help, Winters has set out to clear his father's name.

They gathered letters from people, including Schwimmer, and gained support from the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County.

By Aug. 1, a letter with the signatures of 21 congressional representatives was sent to the U.S. Department of Justice pardon attorney.

So far, no decision has been made.

"He didn't live long enough for me to have a chance to do anything nice for him," Jimmy Winters said of his father. "So this is the role reversal, my giving back to the parents."