Justice Department officials said yesterday that they would agree to release the uncle of Teamsters union President Jackie Presser from a Texas prison rather than disclose details of Presser's relationship with the federal government.
Presser's uncle, Alan Friedman, has served 11 months of a three-year embezzlement sentence for collecting $165,000 in union payments approved by Presser without doing any work. Friedman, 63, was an officer at the Teamsters local in Cleveland where Presser is secretary-treasurer.
The Justice Department last month dropped a lengthy investigation of allegations that Presser had approved payment of more than $250,000 in union funds to "ghost employes" who did no work. Sources have said the probe was dropped because Presser served as an informer for the Federal Bureau of Investigation for a number of years, a role that greatly complicated the chances of convicting him.
Friedman's attorneys have asked a federal judge in Akron for a new trial, saying that prosecutors withheld information about Presser's ties to the FBI when Friedman was convicted two years ago. They have also asked the government to turn over all documents on Presser's relationship with the FBI.
"If a motion is made to move for a new trial, we will move to dismiss the charge, thereby setting Mr. Friedman free," Justice Department spokesman John K. Russell said yesterday. "We regard the information as very sensitive, and we do not want to reveal it to the public."
Russell said it would be unusual for the department to agree to free a convicted felon to prevent the disclosure of information. He said the decision was made by senior department officials.
Friedman's lawyers, Jack and Dennis Levin of Cleveland, contend that the government entrapped Friedman because the FBI encouraged Presser's payments to him.
U.S. District Court Judge Sam H. Bell has set a hearing in Akron for Monday that could result in Friedman being freed from a federal prison in Fort Worth.
Justice Department officials have refused to discuss their reasons for dropping the 32-month probe of Presser, despite recommendations by federal prosecutors in Cleveland that he be indicted. The Senate permanent subcommittee on investigations is looking into the handling of the case. In both 1980 and 1984, Presser was the only major union leader to endorse Ronald Reagan for the presidency.
At a closed-door court hearing in Akron Friday -- the transcript of which was released this week -- Justice Department lawyer William Bryson said, "We do have information . . . which was not known to the prosecution team at the time of the [Friedman] trial."
Since officials consider the information confidential and will not turn it over to the defense, Bryson said, the Justice Department cannot object to a request for a new trial. "Since . . . we obviously can't proceed with a new trial or any other proceedings without turning over this information," he added, "we would be prepared to agree to a dismissal of the indictment."
Friedman's lawyers have asked the government for a list of cases in which Presser may have cooperated with the FBI. They have also asked for information on any discussions between government agents and Presser, including any "promises of no prosecution, immunity, lesser sentence or leniency."