Disgraced Hudson pol David Friedland, who faked his own death to avoid jail, dies at 84


At a time notorious for political crooks, Jersey City’s David Friedland was in a league of his own, thanks to an inclination for drama and flair. It is hard to compete, after all, with a politician who has been accused of corruption even after he staged his own death.

Friedland, one of New Jersey’s most notorious politicians-turned-criminals of the 20th century, died April 21. He was 84 years old.

The cause of his death, which was confirmed by a Miami funeral home, was not disclosed.

A lawyer who became a force in the state Assembly and Senate, Friedland was the rare New Jersey state politician who earned an international name – a notorious name, when he ran away after being accused of bribes and became the most federal investigators. – Wanted fugitive at the end of 1987.

Two years earlier, he faked his own death, then evaded authorities for nearly two years by traveling the world. The law finally caught up with him in the Maldives, in the Indian Ocean nearly 9,000 miles from Jersey City, after gaining prominence there as the owner of a successful chain of scuba diving shops.

“It became more of a sexy story than the crimes he allegedly committed,” said Harvey Fisher, former Trenton bureau chief for the Bergen Record.

But Friedland’s story began in Jersey City, where he was born on December 20, 1937, to Jacob Friedland and Miriam Rose. His father, a lawyer, served in the State Assembly from 1939 to 1951.

Friedland found himself on a similar path, including his fall into crime; the father and son duo were charged together in 1979.

But first, Friedland made a name for himself in the world of litigation and legislation.

At 26, he sparked a wave of redistribution in the state legislature after representing plaintiffs in a case that challenged language in the state constitution that gave each New Jersey county a single state senator. State, regardless of its population.

Friedland then served in the Assembly from 1966 to 1974. Known for his tailored suits, captivating speeches and, for those who knew him particularly well, his poetry, he was also named one of the most corrupt politicians in a state plagued by corruption.

“He was very sneaky, very cunning,” Fisher said.

Friedland helped overturn criminal charges against a Bayonne loan shark, earning him a six-month bar suspension in 1971. Federal authorities named him among New Jersey lawmakers too close to organized crime.

It was while Friedland was a state senator that he really started getting into trouble, setting off a chain of events that ended in his arrest.

In 1979, at the age of 41, Friedland and his father were charged with accepting $360,000 in bribes in return for obtaining $4 million in loans from the city’s pension fund. a union they were advising.

After being sentenced to seven years in prison, he became a Hudson County crime informant. Then in 1985, when he was supposed to know if he was heading to prison, he disappeared.

The story began with Friedland reported missing in the Bahamas, where authorities searched the area he was believed to have been scuba diving in before failing to surface.

Less than a month later, his next indictment came: The government accused Friedland of participating in another scam with the same pension fund, this time taking $3 million alongside two other alumni officials.

Faking his death hadn’t worked. Investigators were still on his trail.

“Thomas W. Greelish, the United States Attorney here, declined to speculate today whether Mr. Friedland, described by close friends and acquaintances as charismatic, brilliant, fascinating, creative and selfish, was dead or alive,” the New York Times said. reported after his indictment. “But he said, ‘It’s not normally the practice of the US Attorney’s office to charge deceased persons.’

It took nearly two years before authorities found him in the Maldives. In the meantime, he had been followed in Kenya, Hong Kong and Paris. He became Richard Smith Harley, traveling on a fake passport, then got so comfortable he was photographed for a postcard in the Maldives, despite wearing scuba diving gear.

He would later say that the experience made him feel like he had lost his personal identity.

When authorities finally tracked him down in 1987, the United States Marshal for New Jersey said it was Friedland’s notoriety in the Maldives that exposed him. He and his girlfriend Colette Golightly, whom he later married, had a seaside cottage built there.

Once back in New Jersey, he was sentenced to seven years, then another 15, which he was ordered to serve concurrently. He was released after eight years.

While in Trenton, Friedland made enemies when he convinced four other Democrats to give Republicans control of the lower house, even though the Democrats were in the majority. The protest, which Friedland said was due to his fellow Democrats not paying enough attention to Hudson County, denied the Assembly what would have been its first black presidential candidate and sparked outrage.

“Because of what he did, at that time, nobody would really trust him,” Fisher said. “Why would they? »

In prison, Friedland told the Chicago Tribune, “If my life ended today, I would be happy. I have lived a full life. I never get bored. I’m like a whirlwind of energy, even here.

The prison experience, he said at the time, took him back to his roots as a lawyer, where he wanted to help other inmates communicate with their families and apply for bail.

Fisher, who never spoke to Friedland after his disappearance, said he remembered asking him once in an interview why he was still in so much trouble.

In return, he got what he described Friday as an astonishing response: up to 20 seconds of silence.

“It was a very eye-opening answer, because David had an answer for everything,” Fisher said. “That silence, it was just absolutely incredible for a journalist who knew him well enough. It said a lot.

Attempts to reach members of Friedland’s family failed. Survivors include a brother, Stephen, a singer-songwriter who goes by the name Brute Force.


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