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Report: Phil Mickelson denies helping gambler's White House commutation

January 21, 2021

Carmen Mandato

Phil Mickelson has denied involvement in the commutation of Las Vegas businessman and gambler Billy Walters’ sentence by former President Donald Trump, according to an ESPN report.

On Wednesday, Walters, whose insider-trading case was linked to Phil Mickelson, was one of 143 people who Trump granted clemency. A White House release listed Mickelson, along with golf instructor Butch Harmon and NBC Sports commentators David Feherty and Peter Jacobsen, as supporters of Walters’ commutation.

However, on Thursday, Mickelson attorney Glenn Cohen told ESPN, “Phil had nothing to do with this.”

“The press release referencing Phil Mickelson is erroneous,” Cohen told ESPN’s Bob Harig. “The reason we are upset is because it’s untrue.”

Mickelson, who is competing in and serving as host of the PGA Tour’s American Express this week, also told Harig he did not write a letter in Walters’ behalf.

In 2017, Walters was convicted in U.S. District Court of securities fraud, conspiracy and wire fraud. Prosecutors argued that from 2008 to 2014, Walters made more than $43 million from trades of Dean Foods by realizing profits and avoiding losses thanks to information he had obtained from former company chairman Tom Davis.

During Walters’ trial, it was revealed that Mickelson (a golf partner of Walters) began to trade in Dean Foods stock at the urging of Walters, and that Mickelson made more than $931,000 in profits after buying and selling holdings between July and August 2012. Mickelson’s trading in Dean Foods was used as evidence against Walters, but Mickelson did not testify at trial. The golfer’s lawyers informed the prosecution and defense that if called by either side, Mickelson would decline to testify based on his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The government had no proof whether Mickelson knew where Walters’ information was coming from, and thus could not know if Mickelson intended to violate the laws against insider trading. But the SEC did name Mickelson a “relief defendant” in a civil case, meaning that the agency believed that Mickelson profited from insider trading in Dean Foods even if he didn’t engage in it himself. Mickelson settled that civil case by agreeing to surrender his trading profits plus interest of more than $100,000. In doing so, Mickelson neither admitted nor denied the allegations in the SEC’s complaint.

Walters, 74, was sentenced to five years in prison. He was released last summer to home confinement in the San Diego area due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The commutation negates the rest of his sentence.