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No parole for former leader of Puerto Rican FALN group

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

SPRINGFIELD — A one-time leader of a violent Puerto Rican separatist group responsible for fatal bombings that terrorized Chicago and New York in the 1970s and early 1980s won’t be released early from a U.S. prison, a federal panel announced Friday.

The United States Parole Commission rejected a parole request from Oscar Lopez Rivera, who headed the Chicago wing of the FALN and was convicted for seditious conspiracy, armed robbery and twice scheming to escape prison.

Lopez Rivera has served 30 years in the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., after being sentenced to 55 years for some of his crimes in August 1981. He was sentenced to another 15 years in 1988 for attempting to escape prison.

As part of a blanket clemency offered to FALN prisoners, former President Bill Clinton was willing in 1999 to free Lopez Rivera if he renounced violence and served another 10 years with a clean record, but the prisoner rejected that offer.

The panel did not explain the rationale behind its decision Friday. Lopez Rivera is not scheduled for release until 2021, though he will have another chance at parole in two years.

“We have to look at whether release would depreciate the seriousness of the offenses or promote disrespect for the law, whether release would jeopardize public safety and the specific characteristics of the offender,” said the commission’s chairman, Isaac Fulwood, Jr. in a prepared statement.

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and three other Puerto Rican members of Congress advocated for Lopez Rivera’s parole, saying he no longer posed a risk to society after serving time for his “politically-motivated” crimes. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s office opposed early release.

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 in 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.

Lopez Rivera was not convicted for a role in the Fraunces bombing.

His Chicago lawyer did not respond to a message seeking comment about Friday’s announcement involving her client.

But Joseph Connor, whose father Frank died in the Fraunces bombing and who led efforts to keep Lopez Rivera behind bars, praised the parole board’s decision.

“This shows the average person in this country can stand up and make a difference. It doesn’t give me joy to see a man destroy his life as he has and as he destroyed my father’s and others lives. But justice is served,” Connor said. “After all these years, my dad has not been forgotten.”

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