In an unusual expansion of a politically sensitive case, a new federal grand jury in Washington is investigating whether FBI agents made false statements to Justice Department attorneys last year about the FBI’s relationship with Teamsters Union President Jackie Presser, The Times learned Friday.
The broadening of the case from Cleveland, where another grand jury has been at work for seven months, signals that an inquiry into the secret relationship between Presser and FBI supervisors is nearing a close, sources familiar with the matter said.
Abandoned Fraud Probe
The sources, who spoke on condition that they not be identified, said that the Cleveland grand jury would continue its broad examination of why the Justice Department last July abandoned a three-year labor fraud investigation of Presser, President Reagan’s major ally in organized labor.
The Washington grand jury, they said, would focus on whether one or more FBI agents in the case lied to investigators who asked them, in connection with Presser’s role as a government informant, if they had authorized Presser to pad the payroll of his hometown Cleveland local to maintain credibility with organized crime figures.
The new grand jury investigation is taking place in Washington, the sources said, because the alleged false statements occurred here and the Cleveland grand jury might not have legal jurisdiction. It is considered rare for two grand juries to work on the same case.
A proposed indictment of Presser on payroll-padding charges, recommended by federal prosecutors in Cleveland, was rejected last summer by Justice Department officials, who determined belatedly that such actions by the union chief might have been condoned or authorized by FBI agents in the 1970s.
Cleveland-based prosecutors have told the grand jury there that Joseph E. Griffin, special agent in charge of the Cleveland FBI office, twice lied to them in 1982 and 1983 in denying that his agents had any informant relationship with Presser, The Times’ sources said. Griffin’s defenders maintain that he never lied.
The new Washington grand jury is described as focusing on the truthfulness of some FBI statements in 1985, when a Justice Department investigation headed by Michael E. Shaheen Jr., head of the Office of Professional Responsibility, sought to untangle the precise relationship between Presser and the FBI.
It could not be learned whose statements the grand jury is examining. But two agents who have figured in the inquiry are Robert Frederick, supervisor of the Cleveland FBI’s organized crime squad, and Patrick Foran, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Las Vegas field office and a predecessor of Frederick in Cleveland.
5-Year Prison Term
Frederick and Foran, through their attorneys, refused to comment on the case.
The seriousness of the Washington investigation is underscored by the fact that Section 1001 of the U.S. criminal code, the statute that figures in the grand jurors’ inquiry, carries a maximum penalty on conviction of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. It applies to “any false, fictitious or fraudulent statements or representations” made to a federal agency.
FBI Director William H. Webster told The Times in February that he might take disciplinary action against one or more agents in the case. But Webster said he was not confident that he knew the full facts of their involvement and would await the conclusion of the Justice Department investigation.