Suburban man serving life in marijuana conspiracy has sentenced commuted by Trump

Craig Cesal said one of the biggest advocates for his release was Alice Johnson, who got a full pardon from Trump last year. She was sentenced to life in prison for her involvement in a Memphis cocaine-trafficking ring.

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Craig Cesal

Craig Cesal

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A Lombard man serving a life sentence for participating in a drug conspiracy was granted clemency late Tuesday and said he plans to help free other people behind bars for marijuana convictions.

Craig Cesal, 61, got in trouble for leasing tractor-trailers to marijuana smugglers almost two decades ago. Late Tuesday, the White House announced that Donald Trump, in his final hours as president, had commuted Cesal’s sentence.

The White House said Cesal “had an exemplary disciplinary record” and “looks forward to reintegrating back into society and to contributing to his community while living with his daughter with whom he has remained close. Mr. Cesal hopes to be a part of her upcoming wedding.”

In 2002, U.S. border agents found 1,500 pounds of pot in a secret compartment in one of his trucks at a checkpoint in Laredo, Texas. Federal drug agents followed the truck to Georgia, where the pot was delivered.

“I never received any direct revenue from marijuana,” Cesal said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.

Cesal said one of the biggest advocates for his release was Alice Johnson, who got a full pardon from Trump last year. She was sentenced to life in prison for her involvement in a Memphis cocaine-trafficking ring.

Cesal plans to travel. In addition to visiting the South on a motorcycle, he’d like to go to the western United States to thank people in the marijuana industry there who’ve advocated for his release.

In June, the government temporarily released Cesal from the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, and allowed him to return home to Lombard, where he’s been staying with his mother. 

Cesal was put on home confinement to protect him from getting the coronavirus in prison. He suffers from diabetes and asthma, which put him at risk of having serious medical complications from the virus.

Cesal said he’s been allowed to leave home with the approval of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. He said a trip to the doctor was a bit surrealistic.

“I found myself standing right next to a cannabis store on the South Side with a GPS device on my ankle — knowing I was still serving a life sentence for cannabis,” he said.

He said he hopes to work for the Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit group involved in cannabis reforms. His goal is to help free people locked up on marijuana-related convictions.

Contributing: Jon Seidel, Lynn Sweet

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