FALN victim Frank Connor (center), with his sons Joe Connor (left) Tom Connor (right), during a family vacation, circa 1970.
SPRINGFIELD - Squaring off against Chicago’s top federal prosecutor and victims’ families, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez is helping push parole for a one-time leader of a violent Puerto Rican separatist group responsible for 120 bombings nationally that killed five people.
Gutierrez (D-Ill.) believes Oscar Lopez Rivera, who headed the Chicago wing of the FALN, should be released from a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., after serving 29 years for seditious conspiracy, armed robbery and twice scheming to escape prison.
The FALN terrorized Chicago and New York City during the 1970s and early 1980s with a string of explosions, murders, kidnappings and armed-car heists that culminated with the 1975 lunch-time bombing of the Fraunces Tavern in New York City that killed four and injured more than 60 others.
The group simultaneously took over the Chicago presidential campaign offices of Jimmy Carter in 1980 and the New York campaign offices of Republican George Bush, holding campaign workers at gunpoint while ransacking the offices and stealing supporter lists.
Lopez Rivera, who oversaw the takeover of the Carter office, also directed the placement of five bombs in the Loop and suburbs in late 1979 and oversaw the 1980 armed takeover of an Oak Creek, Wis., National Guard armory.
Gutierrez signed a letter to the head of the United States Parole Commission, along with three other Puerto Rican members of Congress, that characterized the 67-year-old Lopez Rivera as the only Puerto Rican “convicted for politically-motivated activities in the early 1980s…who remains in prison” and someone who “would not pose any risk to society.”
“I joined a bipartisan and broad-based group of elected officials, including every Puerto Rican member of Congress, as well as community, religious and labor leaders in supporting a petition for parole for Oscar Lopez after serving more than 30 years in prison,” Gutierrez said in a prepared statement.
“Others who were in very similar situations to Mr. Lopez have received parole and become model members of their communities,” Gutierrez said.
An unrepentant Lopez Rivera turned down a 1999 clemency offer from former President Bill Clinton, who moved to free 16 Puerto Rican separatists on the condition they renounce terrorism as a means for the Caribbean commonwealth to obtain independence. Gutierrez was instrumental in winning those prisoners‚ release.”
Joseph Connor, whose father Frank died in the Fraunces bombing, condemned Gutierrez’ efforts on behalf of Lopez Rivera, whom Connor blames for all of FALN’s crimes.
“I really can’t put into words how despicable it is for Gutierrez, a U.S. House member, to endorse the release of an unrepentant terrorist like Lopez based on a petition of deception and lies,” Connor said.
“He and his fellow terror supporters have once again brought the pain of our father’s murder to our hearts and forced us to relieve the agony of January 24,” he said. “Like the terrorists themselves, he has no compassion for those murdered and those left behind.”
Supporters for Lopez Rivera contend he had no role in the Fraunces bombing. His attorney, Jan Susler, could not be reached Tuesday.
Like Connor, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has weighed in against parole for Lopez Rivera, whom prosecutors describe as a “tactical, strategic and philosophical leader” of the now-disbanded terrorist group.
“Despite the passage of years and ample time for reflection, we (are) aware of no contrition for the damage he has caused or anything approaching a renunciation of his criminal acts. Thus, there is no known reason to believe that Lopez is no longer committed to the ‘struggle’ ‘by any means necessary,’” Fitzgerald wrote.
“The enormity of the violence that Lopez has planned, committed, supported, applauded and glibly attempted to justify to not warrant the exercise of discretion favorable to this committed terrorist,” Fitzgerald wrote.
A hearing officer has recommended against parole for Lopez Rivera. The federal panel that will decide Lopez Rivera’ fate could render a decision within the next few weeks.