NEWARK, N.J. -- A former state senator who faked his own death was ordered to begin serving a seven-year prison sentence today after claiming that he disappeared two years ago because he feared for his life.
Former Sen. David J. Friedland told U.S. District Judge Dickinson Debevoise that federal officials violated his agreement to cooperate with them in a political corruption investigation, 'literally forcing me to flee this country for my own life.'
He said he continues to fear for his safety now.
Debevoise ordered Friedland to begin serving the fraud sentence he avoided during two years on the run in Europe, Africa and Asia. The judge told Friedland, who was acting as his own attorney, that he is free to file a motion for reduction of sentence.
Friedland, who was brought back to the United States on Sunday from the Maldives Islands in the Indian Ocean, appeared in court wearing a blue and white shirt in an underwater motif, white pants and suede shoes. After the hearing, he hugged and kissed his daughter before federal marshals escorted him out of the courtroom.
Friedland agreed that Debevoise had no alternative but to send him to prison. But he told the judge that he wanted to state his reasons for leaving the country.
'I too love this country,' Friedland said. 'Indeed, the last two weeks I spent in a Maldivean jail, deprived of any human rights, kept awake by policemen's clubs, eating the most vile food, made me appreciate this country more.'
Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Fortnoy Imbert said the government would oppose any motion for a reduced sentence.
'There's absolutely no evidence that Mr. Friedland is in any danger whatsoever,' Imbert said.
Once considered a rising star among New Jersey Democrats, Friedland will now begin serving seven years in prison for a 1980 conviction for soliciting a $350,000 kickback on a loan made by a Teamsters union pension fund he represented.
He is yet to be arraigned before U.S. District Judge John Gerry in Camden on an indictment returned while he was on the run that charges him with defrauding the same pension fund of up to $10 million. He allegedly committed the fraud while he acted as an informant in federal investigations of labor racketeering and corruption to try to win a reduction of his sentence from the kickback case.
Friedland, who resigned as state senator in 1980, could be sentenced to a maximum of 150 years in prison if convicted of the new charges.
The Hudson County Democrat, who rose to the top of the U.S. Marshals Service's list of 15 most wanted fugitives early this month, disappeared on Labor Day in 1985 when, officials said, he faked his death in a staged scuba diving accident in the Bahamas.
Since then, federal agents tracked Friedland, 50, through jet-set resorts from Kenya to Venice, the French Alps, Hong Kong and Singapore. Federal officials believed he lived on money he salted away in overseas bank accounts.
Friedland spent the past 18 months in the Maldives, living under two aliases -- Ionnis Stogias and Richard Smith Harley -- while he ran a successful scuba shop chain and organized diving trips for tourists, officials said.