Why Mark Wahlberg Really Wants a Pardon for 1988 Assault

Wahlburgers Pending - H 2014

Wahlburgers Pending - H 2014

The actor says he's concerned he'll "be denied a concessionaire's license on the basis of my prior record" as he looks to expand his Wahlburgers restaurant franchise

This story first appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Mark Wahlberg filed an application with the Massachusetts Board of Pardons on Nov. 26 hoping to get his criminal record erased for his 1988 assault on two Asian American men, which left one blind in one eye. (Then 16, he served 45 days in jail.)

Why is he seeking to clear his name 26 years later? In his application, which must be approved by the governor, Wahlberg says he's concerned he'll "be denied a concessionaire's license on the basis of my prior record." The actor is referring to his 3-year-old Wahlburgers restaurant franchise (as seen on the eponymous A&E show), owned with brothers Donnie and Paul, which Dec. 4 announced its expansion to 27 locations in Florida and New York (goal: 300 outposts).

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As of 2006, he hadn't apologized to his victims, which could help gain the pardon. A VietAid spokesperson in Wahlberg's hometown, Dorchester, says to his knowledge, "Mark has not reached out to the Vietnamese community." Has he made — or will he make — expedient amends? Wahlberg's rep declined to address the apology issue to THR.

Yet at the New York City premiere of his film The Gambler on Wed., Dec. 10, he told reporters, "You know, I've been working extremely hard for the last 27 years since I woke up sober and realized the horrible mistake that I've made and the horrible pain that I caused so many people every single day to try to better myself as a person. This is not something I just decided to do overnight, and two years later, I said, 'Well, I'm a big celebrity, like I can do whatever I want.' No. I've been working really hard to become a better person, to be a good influence on kids growing up in situations like mine. And so, you know, whether it happens or not, it won't change how hard I work at becoming a better person."

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The actor's self-absolution may not be enough to win over skeptical corners of the Asian-American community. Political group 18 Million Rising, for instance, referred on its website to court documents noting Wahlberg yelled a racial epithet while beating one of the victims with a five-foot-long wooden stick. "Why," the advocacy organization asks, "should someone who has done nothing to support his victims or atone for his crimes get a pardon?"

Ashley Lee contributed additional reporting.