Last Updated Dec 26, 2019 12:02 PM EST
The FBI is looking intomade by Kentucky's former Republican Governor Matt Bevin, federal law enforcement sources confirmed to CBS News. Lawmakers from both major political parties say they're concerned that some pardons Bevin issued just before he left office were favors to supporters.
The Louisville Courier-Journal first reported the FBI probe.
Bevin granted hundreds of pardons and commutations in his last act as governor. A majority went to low-level drug offenders, but some went to convicted murderers and rapists.
One was Micah Schoettle, a man who served less than two years for raping a 9-year-old girl who was a close relative.
The mother of that child, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her family, told CBS News correspondent Don Dahler she wishes she'd been warned that her daughter's rapist was going free.
"It just felt like a slap in the face. It felt like a ton of bricks hit me. I just kind of collapsed to the floor sobbing and crying," she said. "I wish Bevin would have come talk to me first before he gave Micah a pardon, and that was never done."
Schoettle served just 19 months of a 23-year sentence.
"I was shocked to hear that he was even considering a pardon for Micah Schoettle, much less granting one," said Kentucky public prosecutor Rob Sanders, who helped put Schoettle behind bars. "This was a very, very lengthy case that was litigated heavily. ... To hear that he was basically erasing all the work that we had done was just shocking."
In a radio interview last week, Bevin, a father of nine, defended his pardon of Schoettle by claiming there was no physical evidence.
"If you have been repeatedly sexually violated as a small child by an adult, there are going to be repercussions of that physically and medically," Bevin said.
A 2012 study found that about 90% of child victims don't show physical evidence of abuse.
"This isn't a Democrat prosecutor coming after a Republican governor. I was a supporter of Matt Bevin's, but what he has done is just absolutely wrong," Sanders said. "The problem is he's granted hundreds of pardons to people with little or no research into who they are, what they did, or whether or not they've turned their lives around and are worthy of a pardon."
Sanders is investigating how Schoettle's case got onto the governor's desk and if there were any favors involved. He said the governor's pardon file includes letters from the defendant and his family, but nothing from the victim, police or prosecutors in the case.
Schoettle's attorney, however, claimed he is innocent and denied that his pardon was "bought."
"Despite the unfounded and false accusations created by the prosecution disseminated to the public through the media, his pardon was not bought and paid for by his family. He applied like every other applicant, and an investigation ensued," the attorney's statement said.
The attorney added that Schoettle had appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court of Kentucky. "Had the appeal run its course, Micah should have been granted a new trial, and then ultimately acquitted," the statement said.
Meanwhile, the 9-year-old girl's mother said she thinks her daughter is going to return to counseling.
"She has read Bevin's comments about her, and I know it upsets her," she said. "We're just kind of taking one day at a time."