News & Politics

Scam Artist Cops Plea in Case that Sparked Clinton ‘Pardongate’ Probe


Take heart, scandal-scarred pols: These things really do fade away.

Yesterday, one of the last culprits in the multimillion-dollar fraud case that sparked the last of Bill Clinton’s many scandals pled guilty, and no one seemed especially interested.

Avrum Friesel fled the U.S. for Israel back in 1997, shortly after learning that he and five others would be indicted for stealing millions from federal education and housing programs that had been directed to the Hasidic enclave of New Square in Orange County.

Four of Friesel’s codefendants were convicted after trial and sentenced to 30-78 months. But their sentences were commuted by Clinton in a last-minute act of generosity just as he was leaving office in January, 2001. That move came after Bill and Hillary Clinton met with New Square leaders at the White House to hear their pitch on why their pals deserved a break. The clemency decision sparked an uproar. For one thing, it was made without consulting then-Manhattan U.S. attorney Mary Jo White, whose office had fought hard to win the convictions. For another, it was nice political boost for Hillary Clinton who was just launching her campaign to become U.S. senator from New York and was looking for support among the voting-heavy upstate Hasidic communities.

The ensuing investigation into “Pardongate” — which also included a Clinton get-out-of-jail-free card for fugitive financier Marc Rich — sparked headlines, but no charges.

Friesel was one of three scam artists in the New Square case — which fleeced taxpayers of some $40 million in education, housing and anti-poverty funds — who went on the lam after charges were pending. But running away proved to be a spectacularly boneheaded move. Chaim Berger, the leader of the scheme, was arrested in Israel in 1999 and died in prison while serving a 72-month sentence. For his part, Friesel now faces five years in prison. One other defendant, Nathan Adler, is still out there someplace. But it’s just a matter of time.


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