In 2008, Robert Friedland, now 64, applied for a position as an instructor with the City University of New York Research Foundation's ("CUNYRF's") Prep for Success program, which prepares low income high school students for success in college. That's nice - a civic-minded individual trying to make a difference.
After CUNYRF conducted a background check, it turned out that this fine fellow Friedland had a criminal history in the form of a conviction.
Okay, fine, so lots of folks have dings on their records. We make mistakes. We pay for them. Some of us are entitled to a second chance. However, since Friedland is applying to teach kids, it's incumbent upon CUNYRF to undertake a rigorous inquiry as to the nature of the crime committed by Friedland and, if necessary, deny him the job.
In response to CUNYRF's queries, Friedland produced a U.S. District Court Order stating that he had been the victim of identity theft and that the convictions disclosed during his background search were not attributable to him.
Hey, like I said, you can't just rush to conclusions. Friedland wasn't even a bona fide defendant. He was a victim! See - ya gotta ask the tough questions. Dig for answers. Congratulations to CUNYRF on not sleepwalking through the qualification process for its instructor applicants. And how nice it is to learn that, in the end, Friedland was really one of those rare good guys.
Based upon the clearance of the criminal history concerns, CUNYRF hired Friedland as an instructor in its Prep for Success program.
In October 2009, Friedland told CUNYRF that he had been awarded over $3 million of grants under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act by the U.S. Department of Education. Upon producing documentary proof of these awards, Friedland informed CUNYRF of his desire to transfer them to that foundation.
And cynics say that no good deed goes unpunished. CUNYRF took a chance with a guy who they may have mistakenly thought was a criminal and, lo and behold, that act of trust resulted in a multi-million dollar bonanza.
Ahhh, but not so quick with the feel-good Hollywood ending.
When the CUNYRF attempted to collect a portion of Friedland's grants, it turned out that they did not exist. How could that be - I mean, you know, Friedland provided documentary proof . Simple enough explanation: the documents were forged and fraudulent.
Oh, and another thing, you remember that U.S. District Court Orderexplaining away Friedland's prior criminal convictions? Yup - he forged that too. He was, indeed, previously convicted of a crime.
Not surprisingly, Friedland found himself indicted and after a three-day trial in Manhattan federal court in June 2011, the jury convicted him on three counts of fraud. On March 14, 2012, he was sentenced to 30 months in prison.
Wow - not even sure where to begin with this one. Maybe I can sort of understand why Friedland would want a job instructing poor kids seeking college entrance. Maybe I can even come up with some rationale for faking the court order. However, the whole multi-million grant thing is just mind blowing. Did Friedland initiate the job process with CUNYRF so as to pave the way for some grant scan? Were these two situations unrelated? Who the hell knows what goes on in the mind of someone like this.
Then there's the other troubling part of this case. Is the integrity of a background check on a potential employee so trusting that any idiot can sit down at a computer, forge an official looking document, add some legal looking mumbo jumbo and, voila, application approved? Maybe it's only me (and, yeah, quite often it is) but wouldn't the sensible protocol here have been for CUNYRF to directly contact the Court and confirm the existence of the purported order? If the vetting process is so porous as demonstrated in this case, I wonder how many scamsters have managed to pull off a similar scheme. Keep in mind that CUNYRF only detected Friedland's lies about his criminal past when the grant funds fell through - if not for that, I suspect that he'd still be an instructor in Prep for Success?