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Trump pardons ex-49ers owner DeBartolo Jr.

Cincinnati Enquirer logo Cincinnati Enquirer 2/18/2020 Aamer Madhani and Kevin Freking, Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday pardoned Edward DeBartolo Jr., the former San Francisco 49ers owner convicted in a gambling fraud scandal who built one of the most successful NFL teams in the game's history.

DeBartolo Jr., who owned the San Francisco 49ers during their 1980s-1990s dynasty, was involved in one of the biggest owners' scandals in the sport's history. In 1998, he pleaded guilty to failing to report a felony when he paid $400,000 to former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards in exchange for a riverboat gambling license.

The White House announced the surprise decision to reporters on Tuesday, with NFL greats Jerry Rice, Jim Brown, Ronnie Lott and Charles Haley in attendance.

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"You know what, we all make mistakes and today the president cleared that mistake from him," said Haley, an NFL Hall of Fame defensive end who played on two of DeBartolo's Super Bowl winning teams.

DeBartolo, whose San Francisco 49ers won five Super Bowls under his leadership, stepped down as owner in 1997 after two Louisiana newspapers reported he would be indicted for gambling fraud.

He avoided prison, was fined $1 million and was suspended for a year by the NFL. But the episode effectively ended his NFL career. 

Edward J. DeBartolo, Jr. wearing a suit and tie talking on a cell phone: In this Aug. 8, 2015, file photo former owner of the San Francisco 49ers Edward DeBartolo, Jr., is interviewed before the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio. President Donald Trump pardoned DeBartolo, who is convicted in gambling fraud scandal. © Gene J. Puskar, AP Photo In this Aug. 8, 2015, file photo former owner of the San Francisco 49ers Edward DeBartolo, Jr., is interviewed before the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio. President Donald Trump pardoned DeBartolo, who is convicted in gambling fraud scandal. Rice, an NFL Hall of Famer who played on three of DeBartolo's Super Bowl-winning teams, said DeBartolo "was like that 12th man" of the great 49ers teams.

"He's the main reason why we won so many Super Bowls," Rice said. "So today is a great day for him. I'm glad to be here and be a part of that. It's just something I will never forget. This man, he has done so much in the community, has done so much in NFL football."

DeBartolo was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.

He grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, where his father started the Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation developing shopping malls and real estate holdings. In addition to the 49ers, the family also owned the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League before selling the team in 1991.

Ronnie Lott, Derrick Brooks standing in front of a building: Former NFL football player Jerry Rice speaks after walking out of the West Wing of White House, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, in Washington. It was announced that President Donald Trump has granted a full pardon to Edward DeBartolo Jr., former owner of the San Francisco 49ers NFL football team convicted in gambling fraud scandal. © Alex Brandon, AP Photo Former NFL football player Jerry Rice speaks after walking out of the West Wing of White House, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, in Washington. It was announced that President Donald Trump has granted a full pardon to Edward DeBartolo Jr., former owner of the San Francisco 49ers NFL football team convicted in gambling fraud scandal. DeBartolo Jr. ran the San Francisco 49ers starting 1977, and his hiring of coach Bill Walsh in 1979 led to the franchise's most successful era.

After the suspension, DeBartolo gave control of the team to his sister, Denise DeBartolo York, in 1997. He never returned to the NFL after his suspension. The team is now run by his nephew, Jed York. 

Associated Press writer Jill Colvin and The Enquirer's Jeff Suess contributed to this article.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Trump pardons ex-49ers owner DeBartolo Jr.

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