CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) _ A former state senator who spent two years on the run after faking his own death attempted to contact Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in a last-ditch effort to prevent his return to the United States to face criminal charges, a federal prosecutor said Tuesday.
David Friedland, 50, was arraigned Tuesday before U.S. District Judge John F. Gerry and pleaded innocent to charges that he masterminded a multimillion- dollar swindle of a Teamsters pension fund.
Friedland faked a scuba diving accident in the Bahamas in September 1985 to appear dead and avoid serving a prison sentence for his 1980 conviction on accepting kickbacks to arrange a loan from the same fund, the government said.
He traveled across Africa, Asia and Europe before his arrest Dec. 12 in the Maldive Islands off the coast of India.
Friedland was returned to the United States Dec. 27 by federal marshals. A federal judge in Newark ordered him to begin serving a seven-year sentence for his earlier conviction at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York.
″Mr. Friedland took every step possible to evade his apprehension″ and engaged in several efforts to persuade authorities on the Maldives not to turn him over to U.S. custody, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Chertoff said at the arraignment.
Chertoff also said that while Friedland was in a Maldive jail, he asked someone he knew to contact the Libyan embassy and attempt to get a message to Gadhafi.
Friedland’s attorney, John Yacovelle, immediately interrupted the prosecutor, saying it was inappropriate to discuss such information at the arraignment.
Following the hearing, Chertoff declined to elaborate and Yacovelle would not comment.
″We don’t know anything about it,″ said Yacovelle, who has known Friedland since 1959 when both were students at Rutgers University Law School in Newark.
Gerry set March 7 for Friedland’s trial on charges that include conspiring to commit racketeering, wire fraud, mail fraud and labor violations. The charges carry maximum penalties of 150 years in prison.
Friedland is accused of paying thousands of dollars in cash kickbacks to three former officials of the pension fund of Local 701 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in North Brunswick in 1982.
In return for the kickbacks, federal prosecutors allege, Friedland and former Union County Assemblyman Joseph J. Higgins, now of Pompano Beach, Fla., defrauded the fund of $20 million through a bogus mortgage company they established in Florida.
Since his arrest, Friedland has been quoted in interviews as saying he fled the United States because he feared for his life.
Friedland, Higgins and four other men were named in a 90-count federal indictment in October 1985 in Newark. Higgins entered a plea agreement with prosecutors and served as the government’s witness against the others.
Kenneth P. Zauber, Robert Coar and Frank Scotto were convicted in 1986 and are free on bail pending appeal. Angus Stone Douglass pleaded guilty in a plea agreement.