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Governor pardons Modestan who drank stolen wine as teen

Michael J. Moradian Jr. was in high school when he stole his neighbor’s wine.
Michael J. Moradian Jr. was in high school when he stole his neighbor’s wine. Modesto Chamber of Commerce

In pardoning a group of convicted felons last week, Gov. Jerry Brown went out of his way to explain how one of the burglars had taken “expensive wine out of a wine cellar and drank it.”

It was an amusing detail offered to justify granting clemency for that crime.

But Modesto’s Michael J. Moradian Jr. acknowledges that what he did back in 1986 was no laughing matter.

“Nobody knows this about me,” said Moradian, a community advocate whom the City Council honored earlier this month for “his service, leadership and dedication” to Modesto.

Moradian, 46, said he hadn’t even told his two children about his criminal record, but the news spread quickly following the governor’s announcement.

“I was a senior in high school when it happened,” Moradian recalled. He was attending Modesto’s Davis High School and hanging with the wrong kind of crowd. “I made poor choices at the time.”

“My neighbor had a wine cellar, and I decided to help myself. I helped myself more than once,” Moradian admitted. “That was expensive wine I drank.”

Several other teens were involved in stealing and drinking that booze, but Moradian was the only “adult,” having just turned 18. Once prosecutors calculated the missing wine was worth more than $10,000, they charged Moradian with felony theft.

He was convicted and sentenced to six months in jail.

“It opened my eyes and totally changed my life. I was on the road to destruction in high school, but it woke me up,” Moradian assured. After being forced to live among inmates at Stanislaus County’s honor farm, he realized: “This was not the lifestyle I wanted.”

Moradian qualified for the jail’s work release program. He got a job with EarthCalc, which calculates how much dirt must be moved to complete various projects. But while he spent his days working, he had to spend his nights in jail.

He stuck with EarthCalc after being released, and a decade later he bought the company. Moradian still owns it, along with two other local businesses, Peace of Mind Pest Control and Peace of Mind Home Inspections.

In granting him “a full and unconditional pardon,” Brown said Moradian “has lived an honest and upright life, exhibited good moral character and conducted himself as a law-abiding citizen” since that theft.

Moradian has been active in numerous civic organizations, including the La Loma Neighborhood Association, a nonprofit umbrella group called Modesto Neighborhoods Inc. and Modesto’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness.

In honoring him Dec. 9, the City Council noted how Moradian “has selflessly devoted the past 10 years of his life to improve neighborhoods citywide.”

Last year, the Modesto Chamber of Commerce presented him a Distinguished Service Award for his efforts.

The governor issued 104 pardons last week, continuing his tradition of granting judicial mercy during the Christmas season. Besides Moradian, four others were pardoned for crimes committed in Stanislaus County decades ago.

They included:

▪ Jeromy David Collins, who “stole a friend’s car” back in 1996. Collins completed three years’ probation and has stayed out of trouble since.

▪ Paul Glen Dorrity “for the crime of possession of a controlled substance,” which happened in 1985. He served three years’ probation.

▪ Curtis Lee Kilgore for a controlled substance charge, along with possession of a dangerous weapon, in 1988. He served one year in prison, plus two years on parole.

▪ Richard Palmer for grand theft. In 1992, he was convicted of taking money from a gas station, which sent him to prison for four months.

Those pardoned all had completed their sentences and received certificates of rehabilitation from a Superior Court. To be eligible for clemency, they all had to have stayed out of trouble for at least 10 years.

Being pardoned can have meaningful consequences for people. For example, they can be allowed to serve on juries or work as parole agents or correctional officers. In some cases, they can possess firearms.

The pardon does not erase the record of the conviction, nor does it allow felons to state they have never been convicted of a crime on an employment application.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at jnsbranti@modbee.com or (209) 578-2196.

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