FBI agent Robert S. Friedrick, bolstered by a caravan of fellow agents from Cleveland, pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges that he lied under oath last summer to prevent the indictment of Teamsters union President Jackie Pressen.
Friedrick, indicted by a federal grand jury here May 15, was released on his own recognizance at a hearing before U.S. District Court Judge George H. Revercomb. Revercomb said he intended to press for an early trial, perhaps in August, and ordered defense motions filed by June 19.
A trim ex-Marine who headed the Cleveland Federal Bureau of Investigation's organized crime squad, Friedrick, 42, was accused of five counts of lying to Justice Department and FBI investigators last summer about Presser's role in a payroll padding scheme involving Presser's hometown Teamsters Local 507 in Cleveland.
About 60 FBI agents from Cleveland and four other Ohio cities made a nine-hour trek by chartered bus and private car to turn out on the courthouse steps here in a show of "personal support" for Friedrick. Joined by several colleagues from East Coast FBI offices, they gathered in a double line, forming a sort of honor guard to appland and shake hands with the agent as he entered the building and as he left.
Visibly moved, Friedrick told them, "Thanks a lot, guys, for coming. I appreciate it."
The alleged Cleveland cover-up, stemming from Presser's role as a top-echelon informant for the bureau, served to squash a longstanding Labor Department investigation of the "ghost employes." The Justice Department's Organized Crime and Racketeering Section vetoed a proposed indictment of the Teamsters president last July, but controversy about the decision led to a renewed inquiry over the past 10 months by the department's Office of Professional Responsibility.
Presser was indicted in Cleveland, the same day Friedrick was indicted here, on federal racketeering charges for allegedly siphoning more than $700,000 from the Teamsters and an allied local of the Bakery, Confectionary and Tobacco Workers Union in the payroll-padding scheme. According to a Senate inquiry concluded earlier this month, Friedrick and two other FBI agents, one of them retired, "basically corroborated" Presser's claims that the no-show payments had been "authorized" by the bureau.
Friedrick is the only agent to be indicted, but the deputy director of the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, Richard Rogers, confirmed yesterday that the federal grand jury that brought the charges is still sitting.
Asked if any other indictments would be brought, Rogers replied, "We'll just have to see."
Friedrick's defense attorney, William D. Beyer of Cleveland, has argued that his client is "just a pawn . . . a casualty in a turf battle" between the FBI and the Justice and Labor departments over labor racketeering cases. Beyer said yesterday that he also intends to contest the admissibility of the allegedly untruthful statements Friedrick gave to investigators last August and September.
The 15-year FBI veteran, sources said, was the only one of three FBI agents at the center of the Presser controversy required to give statements under oath during an administrative inquiry into the matter. The sources said Friedrick was told he was not a target at the time and thus had no choice but to respond to questions, unless he wanted to risk dismissal.
Sources said a second FBI agent, Patrick Foran, was told he was a target of the inquiry and exercised his right to remain silent. The third FBI agent, Martin McCann, had retired several years ago.
Friedrick, the sources added, was indicted after failing an FBI polygraph test earlier this year. According to the indictment, he "concealed and covered up the fact" that he had met several times in June 1985 with Presser, Presser's lawyer, John Climaco, and longtime Presser sidekick Anthony Hughes to discuss a strategy to avert Presser's indictment.
Fredrick, who faces up to five years in prison on each count, was also accused of lying when he told investigators last summer that he personally told presser to leave one of the alleged no-show employes on the payroll.
The agent's FBI supporters, calling themselves the Committee in Support of Robert S. Friedrick and comprising about a third of the bureau's Cleveland division, said they had traveled here on their own time and expense. They said they were raising funds for Friedrick. He has been suspended with pay for 30 days and is expected to be dismissed regardless of trial developments.