Professional gambler Billy Walters was granted a commutation by President Donald Trump during his final day in office, and it came with the help of letters written by, among others, Phil Mickelson.
Walters was sentenced to five years in prison in 2017 for an insider trading case linked to Mickelson, who ended up paying back nearly $1 million plus interest for “ill-gotten gains” but was not charged. Walters later criticized the golfer for not testifying on his behalf at trial.
Trump granted clemency to 143 people on his final day, including 70 who received commuted sentences. That is different from a pardon, which means the crime is wiped from the record. Walters had a little less than a year remaining and had been released from a Florida prison in May due to the coronavirus pandemic and allowed to serve the rest of his sentence at his Southern California home. The commutation negates the rest of the time.
When he was convicted, Walters, 74, was forced to repay more than $40 million for his role in an insider trading plan involving the company Dean Foods.
As part of that plan, Walters had allegedly given Mickelson stock tips that helped him earn profits that enabled him to pay off gambling debts to Walters. Mickelson, 50, was named as a “relief defendant” but faced no criminal charges.
In announcing the commutation, the White House said several people sponsored the action, including Mickelson, noted swing instructor Butch Harmon, former player and now broadcaster David Feherty and former player Peter Jacobsen.
When Walters went to trial, Mickelson’s name was mentioned dozens of times, but he declined to testify, invoking his Fifth Amendment rights.
“All he has to do was come forward and tell the truth,” Walters told ESPN about Mickelson in 2018. “That was all he had to do. The guy wouldn’t do that because he was concerned about his image. He was concerned about his endorsements.”
Throughout, Walters has maintained his innocence.
“I have tried to lead a life marked by concern for others and I hope those qualities, along with the government misconduct that led to my wrongful conviction, convinced the White House to grant me clemency,” Walters said in a statement. “I also hope this sends a strong message to law enforcement to refrain from illegal misconduct in pursuing their targets.”