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Veto Message

August 03, 1888

To the House of Representatives:

I return without approval House bill No. 3008, entitled "An act for the relief of P. A. Leatherbury."

This bill provides that the Secretary of the Treasury shall pay to the person above named the sum of $601.27, being the amount paid by him to Lucy Roberts on two pension checks which were afterwards recalled and canceled.

The committee of the House to whom this bill was referred report that--

The Department discovered, after the issuing of the checks, that the claim for pension was fraudulent, but not until after the purchase, in the ordinary course of business, by Mr. Leatherbury paying $601.27 therefor and giving his due bill for the balance, which balance he refused to pay after ascertaining that the check was repudiated by the Government.

Lucy Roberts, a colored woman, filed a claim for pension in 1868, alleging that she was the widow of Nelson Roberts, who died in the military service in 1865.

Her claim was allowed in 1876, and two checks, numbered 6863 and 6864, aggregating $1,301.27, were issued on account of said pension. Before payment of the checks information was received which caused an investigation by the Pension Bureau as to the honesty of the claim for pension. This investigation established its utterly fraudulent character, and thereupon the checks were canceled and the woman's name was dropped from the pension rolls.

Certain important facts are reported to me from the Pension Bureau as having been developed upon the investigation.

It appears that one Thomas had undertaken to act for the claimant in procuring her pension under an agreement that he should have $300 if successful. Mr. Leatherbury was a notary, postmaster, and claim agent, and acted as notary and general assistant to Thomas and the claimant, who was employed at Leatherbury's house. In the month of July, 1876, the same month the claim for pension was allowed, the woman Roberts was indicted for larceny, the complaining witness being Mr. Leatherbury. Shortly after the issue of the checks the woman disappeared, and it is reported that certain indications suggested that both Leatherbury and Thomas were not entirely ignorant of her whereabouts nor completely disconnected with her disappearance. The checks were obtained from Thomas by Leatherbury, he paying, as he alleges, to Thomas the fee of $300 which had been agreed upon. The checks remained in Leatherbury's possession until they were delivered by him to the special agent of the Pension Bureau upon the investigation. He claimed in his deposition that he considered that what money he had let the woman have and the goods she had obtained at his store while she worked for him, and the $300 which he had advanced to Thomas, her agent, justified him in holding her indebted to him in the sum of $600, and that he held the checks as security for the same, admitting that there was still $700 in her favor, written acknowledgment of which he had placed in the hands of his wife. He further stated that rather than gain notoriety in the matter he would return the checks to the special agent, but he trusted that the Government would pay him the $600 which he had sunk in the transaction.

The woman testified that she did take some goods from Leatherbury at his store at his suggestion, after the arrival of the checks and before she left, about August 16, 1876, which purchases amounted to no more than $100, and that he also advanced her $100; that he made no further payment and wrote to her that he had to give up the checks, and that she never indorsed the checks nor authorized anyone to do so.

Both Leatherbury and Thomas disclaimed any knowledge of the fraudulent character of the claim; but the fraudulent claimant lived in the house of one of them and he was assisting in procuring her claim to be allowed, while the other made an unlawful agreement for a liberal compensation for his services if the claim succeeded. The woman was indicted at the instance of Leatherbury at about the time of the issuance of the checks and fled, but if she is to be believed Leatherbury wrote to her during her absence. After her disappearance he ventures to pay to Thomas his illegal fee and takes possession of the checks. He considers that she owes him $600, and the bill under consideration gives him $601.27, the exact amount of the checks less $700.

Someone with more intelligence than this ignorant colored woman concocted the scheme to gain this fraudulent pension; and the circumstances point so suspiciously toward Thomas and Leatherbury, the claim of the latter upon the Government is infected with so much illegality, and the amount of his advances is arrived at so loosely that in my opinion he should not at this late day be relieved.

GROVER CLEVELAND

Grover Cleveland, Veto Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/205080

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