A former FBI agent, who once handled the late Teamsters President Jackie Presser when he served as a secret government informant, refused to testify Friday at the trial of two Presser associates. He was promptly held in contempt of court.
The action against ex-agent Robert S. Friedrick is believed to be the first time a past or present FBI agent ever has been cited for contempt for refusing to testify at a criminal trial.
Friedrick invoked his 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination. He persisted in his refusal to testify even after U.S. District Judge George W. White, at the government’s request, granted him immunity from prosecution for what he might say. White said that Friedrick could face a maximum 18-month jail term and a heavy fine unless he changes his mind by early next week.
Associates have described Friedrick, 46, as “a stand-up guy” who strongly believes in the confidential nature of an informant relationship.
But his attorney told the judge that Friedrick feared that any testimony he gave could be used by prosecutors to build a new perjury case against him. Friedrick gave conflicting statements to prosecutors two years ago, the attorney noted, which could be contrasted with any trial testimony.
An immunity order does not protect a witness from being indicted for lying.
“Mr. Friedrick would get himself into a legal morass if he testified,” Friedrick’s attorney, William D. Beyer, told the court.
But Justice Department lawyer William S. Lynch responded: “He no longer has a right to refuse to testify. And as long as he tells the truth, he is in no jeopardy.”
Government prosecutors hoped that Friedrick could help them convict Teamster Vice President Harold Friedman and union business agent Anthony Hughes by stating that the FBI never authorized the union to put on the Teamster payroll Mafia-related “ghost employees"--people who allegedly received a total of $700,000 without performing any work.
The “authorization” claim has been maintained by defense attorneys.
Presser, who had headed Cleveland Teamster Local 507, was charged in the case along with Friedman and Hughes but died of cancer last July.
Friedrick had been indicted too, in May, 1986, for allegedly lying to federal investigators in an effort to shield Presser from indictment in this case, which was brought by the Labor Department and not the FBI.
Friedrick was accused of making a false claim that FBI agents had authorized Presser to keep “ghost employees” on the payroll to maintain his channels of communication with the Mafia.
However, a federal appellate court last year threw out Friedrick’s indictment on grounds that government prosecutors had tricked him into admitting that he had lied.
The appellate court, in holding that Friedrick could not be prosecuted for his “involuntary” admission, nonetheless stated that he had misled prosecutors into delaying Presser’s indictment for a year.
Specifically, Friedrick was found in contempt for refusing to testify about his relationship with Hughes, who--like Presser--had been an FBI informant.
While Friedrick is believed to be the first FBI man cited for contempt, two other agents who dealt with Presser previously told the court that they would cite their 5th Amendment rights if called as witnesses.
But Patrick Foran, now second in command of the FBI’s Las Vegas office, and retired Cleveland agent Martin P. McCann, have not been called as witnesses because their conduct still is under investigation by the Justice Department.