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Abraham Bolden

Other federal exonerations in Illinois
On April 26, 2022, President Joe Biden granted a Presidential pardon to 87-year-old Abraham Bolden, the first Black U.S. Secret Service agent assigned to a Presidential detail, who never stopped proclaiming that he had been wrongfully convicted in 1964.

In announcing the pardon, the White House said that Bolden “has steadfastly maintained his innocence, arguing that he was targeted for prosecution in retaliation for exposing unprofessional and racist behavior within the U.S. Secret Service.”

In his autobiography published in 2008, Bolden said that he was framed by other Secret Service agents who were angry because he had complained that agents assigned to President John F. Kennedy’s detail had been drinking the night before Kennedy was assassinated and were derelict in their duty.

The book, “The Echo from Dealey Plaza,” (where Kennedy was killed), recounted how Bolden became what Kennedy called “the Jackie Robinson” of the agency. Bolden also told how a hangman’s noose was left on his desk and that he was subjected to racial epithets from other agents. Mr. Bolden won two commendations for cracking counterfeiting rings and in 1962 ranked second in the nation in solving counterfeit and check forging cases.

Bolden, a native of Chicago, was no longer on Kennedy’s detail at the time Kennedy was killed and was in the Chicago Secret Service office. But by then he had reported to superiors that while he was assigned to the Kennedy detail, including time spent at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, some agents drank alcohol and were drunk or hung over while on duty. Bolden said agents used Secret Service vehicles to visit bars and womanize.

Bolden was arrested on May 18, 1964 following several hours of interrogation. He was indicted on charges of soliciting a bribe, conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

The prosecution’s case was based on testimony from two counterfeiters—Joseph Spagnoli and Frank Jones, who were under indictment in Chicago for counterfeiting U.S. bonds. Bolden was accused of offering to provide inside information on the case against Spagnoli in return for $50,000. Jones’s testimony was attacked by the defense as false and biased—Bolden had arrested Jones twice in the past.

In July 1964—just two months after he was arrested—Bolden went to trial in U.S. District Court. A mistrial was declared when the jury reported that it could not reach a unanimous verdict. After the jury first reported that the vote was 11 to 1 in favor of conviction, the trial judge, Joseph Sam Perry, told the jury that he believed there was sufficient evidence to convict Bolden and sent them back to continue deliberating. Even Perry’s words were not enough—the lone juror holding out for acquittal refused to budge.

Bolden went to trial a second time in August. The prosecution said the seed that sprouted into a conspiracy was planted on April 26, 1964, when Chicago Secret Service Agent John E. Russell prepared an original and seven copies of a report relating to the investigation of the counterfeit savings bond case. The copies were distributed to agents in the Chicago office, including Bolden. On May 8, Bolden shared the report with another agent, Conrad Cross. Cross testified that he then left for a short time. When he returned the report was gone.

On May 9, Spagnoli and the others were indicted. Spagnoli, after he was arrested, was in the Secret Service office. Spagnoli claimed that he spoke to Bolden, and asked if Secret Service agents took money. Spagnoli said Bolden replied that out of fourteen thousand agents, some did.

Two days later, on May 11, according to Jones, Bolden came to Jones’s home and told Jones a number of facts about the Spagnoli case, including the whereabouts of Sandra Hafford, a friend of Spagnoli who had testified against Spagnoli before the grand jury. Hafford was being held in protective custody by the Secret Service in a downtown Chicago hotel. Jones testified that Bolden produced several papers stapled together and a small, typewritten piece of paper containing an excerpt from the summary report of the Spagnoli investigation.

Jones said Bolden asked him to go to Spagnoli's home, give Spagnoli the piece of paper, and tell him that he could have the entire file for $50,000. Jones said Bolden said he and Jones would split the money.

Jones said he gave Spagnoli the piece of paper the following day, on May 12. He said he told Spagnoli that he had a contact in the Secret Service and that the Spagnoli file was available for $50,000. Jones said afterward he went home and called Bolden.

Jones said Bolden picked him up in his Secret Service vehicle. Jones said Bolden told him to tell Spagnoli that the Secret Service had arranged to have Hafford’s hair dyed red.

On the morning of May 13, Spagnoli called Maurice G. Martineau, the Secret Service agent in charge of the Chicago office, and related Jones’s offer to him. The fact of Spagnoli's call was repeated within earshot of Bolden. According to Jones, Bolden called him, said Spagnoli had called the “boss,” and instructed Jones not to talk to Spagnoli.

Subsequently, Spagnoli gave Martineau the paper he received from Jones and identified Jones as the person who had approached him. Jones was arrested on May 18.

In the meantime, Agent Russell retrieved all copies of the Spagnoli summary report with the exception of the one designated for Agents Cross and Bolden.

On May 17, 1964, Bolden went to Washington, D.C. to attend a Secret Service training school. On May 18, he returned to Chicago after he was told he was needed for an undercover operation. It was a ruse. He was taken to the U.S Attorney's office. There Agent Martineau began to explain the situation. According to Martineau, Bolden interrupted him, saying that anyone could check his typewriter. Martineau contended that he had not mentioned the typewritten nature of the excerpt from the Spagnoli file.

Later, in response to a question by another agent, Bolden allegedly said he didn't know that the Secret Service was going to dye Hafford's hair. Then, within a few minutes, he allegedly volunteered that he didn't know they were going to dye her hair "red.”

The prosecution said these statements essentially buttressed Jones’s testimony.

On August 11, 1964, the jury convicted Bolden of soliciting a bribe, obstruction of justice and conspiracy. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

Five months later, in January 1965, Spagnoli went to trial. He testified that he had committed perjury at Bolden’s trial. He testified that his livelihood was gambling and that he had falsely testified at Bolden’ trial that his mother supported him. He said that this perjury was suborned by the prosecution to make Spagnoli look better in the eyes of the jury. Spagnoli also testified that he had lied in reference to the date on which his call to Agent Martineau was placed, and possibly with reference to other dates.

At the conclusion of Spagnoli’s trial, he was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Based on Spagnoli’s admissions, Bolden filed a motion for a new trial. The motion included the affidavit of his trial attorney. The affidavit stated that the lawyer had a conversation with Spagnoli after Spagnoli was convicted. Spagnoli claimed that an assistant U.S. attorney “backed down from a deal” with him concerning his testimony against Bolden. During Bolden’s trial, Spagnoli had testified that he had received no promise of leniency from the prosecution in exchange for his testimony.

Judge Perry denied the motion for new trial. The Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the convictions in December 1965. A petition for a rehearing before the entire appeals court was denied in February 1966. In June, 1966, after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the case, Bolden surrendered and entered prison. He served 39 months before he was released. The case against Jones was dismissed after he testified against Bolden.

Many years later, the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) looked into some of the facts concerning Bolden’s case and confirmed that what Bolden had said about the Secret Service and his case was true. One Secret Service agent, Conrad Cross, who, under orders from the Secret Service, had testified for the prosecution in the trial against Bolden told the HSCA that he "believe[d] Bolden was set up"--framed for the bribery charge.

Another Secret Service agent, Joseph E. Noonan, Jr., told the HSCA "there was no way that Bolden was going to be able to give Spagnoli files which would really help him with his case. He could only feed him office files and Spagnoli already knew that information.” Essentially, the files had no value to Spagnoli.

Eventually, Bolden’s case dropped out of the news, and he lived a life of anonymity on the South Side of Chicago. In 2008, his case resurfaced when his autobiography was published, and then, as before, largely faded.

The Chicago Crusader, a weekly newspaper focused on the African American community, wrote about Bolden over the years, noting that two of his children died of cancer within months of each other in 2020. His surviving child, Dr. Daaim Shabazz, was a professor at Florida A&M University. In May 2021, the newspaper reported that Bolden “gets around in a wheelchair and is totally blind in his left eye. He’s had several eye operations and is a prostate cancer survivor. But… remained hopeful that he would be pardoned someday.”

In January 2022, Chicago Sun-Times newspaper columnist Mary Mitchell published a plea for Bolden’s exoneration. She noted that Bolden had sought pardons from Presidents Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. To no avail.

“While Bolden’s life story might sound like a conspiracy theory to some, Black Americans will identify with the brand of injustice that buries its victims under false accusations and legal documents,” Mitchell wrote.

In issuing the pardon, the White House not only noted Bolden’s steadfast claim of innocence, but also said: “Mr. Bolden has received numerous honors and awards for his ongoing work to speak out against the racism he faced in the Secret Service in the 1960s, and his courage in challenging injustice. Mr. Bolden has also been recognized for his many contributions to his community following his release from prison.”

Bolden told the Crusader after the pardon was announced: “We are grateful and happy that this day has come, but I just wish my children were alive on this occasion.”

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/6/2022
Last Updated: 5/6/2022
Most Serious Crime:Bribery
Additional Convictions:Conspiracy, Other Nonviolent Felony
Reported Crime Date:1964
Sentence:6 years
Age at the date of reported crime:29
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No