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Rep's motion: Accusations but no affidavits



Published: Wed, August 22, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The congressman says the prosecutor promised reduced sentences to witnesses in return for their testimony.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Without affidavits to supply the meat, indicted U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr.'s list of questions that infer prosecutorial misconduct offers a judge only the hint of a sandwich.

In a 14-page motion, Traficant, of Poland, D-17th, accuses the lead federal prosecutor on his case, Craig S. Morford, of intimidating witnesses, obstructing justice, suborning perjury, violating ethics laws and the federal bribery and gratuity statute.

The bribery reference is Traficant's contention that Morford "paid" witnesses for their testimony through promises of reduced sentences.

The congressman sums it up by saying Morford is guilty of "mammoth misconduct" and should be barred from prosecuting him.

The 60-year-old congressman faces a 10-count indictment that includes racketeering, bribery and tax evasion charges. He has no law degree but has opted to represent himself at trial Feb. 4.

Traficant's motion asks that U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells hold an evidentiary hearing and, in an effort to prove misconduct, allow him to ask Morford 62 questions, for starters. The ninth-term congressman also has asked that he be allowed to subpoena witnesses for the hearing.

After reviewing Traficant's motion, the judge could conclude that a hearing is unwarranted. If she does decide to conduct a hearing and determines misconduct on Morford's part, another lead prosecutor would have to be named for the congressman's case.

Traficant then could call Morford as a witness at trial.

Morford had no comment Tuesday. He has until next Tuesday to respond to Traficant's motion.

Corruption prosecutions: Over the past four years, Morford has successfully prosecuted about 70 Mahoning Valley corruption cases, including those of Traficant's longtime top local aide, Charles O'Nesti (now deceased); mob boss Lenny Strollo; ex-Mahoning County Sheriff Phil Chance; J.J. Cafaro of the mall development family; and contractor A. David Sugar. Another contractor, James R. Sabatine, is being prosecuted by Richard H. Blake, an assistant U.S. attorney.

Cafaro, Sabatine and Sugar have pleaded guilty in the Traficant case and are expected to testify against him.

Most of the congressman's questions, meanwhile, infer that shady deals and threats were made to get to him. No sworn affidavits are attached to the motion to give credence to the allegations that he poses as questions instead of factual statements.

Questions: For example, Traficant wants to ask Morford:

* "Did you suggest or threaten to indict Mr. [J.J.] Cafaro for 'having committed perjury' in the trial of ... Phil Chance if he did not 'come up with a crime' on Traficant?"

* "Did you make, or did you cause an offer to be made, to Sheriff Chance that if he 'gave us anything on Jim Traficant, we'll fill in the blanks and you will get no jail time ...?'"

* "Did you persuade Charles O'Nesti to make false statements against James Traficant?"

* "Did you suggest or threaten Atty. R. Allen Sinclair with disbarment and loss of his law license ... if he did not testify that 'those were not loans, they were kickbacks to Jim Traficant'?"

Cafaro has pleaded guilty to giving Traficant a bribe, Chance was convicted of unrelated racketeering crimes, and Sinclair, although not named in Traficant's indictment, has been identified as the congressional staffer who gave $2,500 of his monthly paycheck back to Traficant.

Cafaro issued this statement through his Cleveland lawyer, Geoffrey S. Mearns: "I have acknowledged my wrongdoing. I have accepted and continue to accept full responsibility for my conduct. In all of my dealings with the Justice Department attorneys and FBI agents, they have treated me fairly and with professional courtesy."

When The Vindicator asked Mearns if Cafaro had been asked by Traficant to supply an affidavit for the motion, the lawyer said, "No."

Traficant raised the issue of prosecutorial misconduct at his July 20 status conference, and Morford told Judge Wells that the congressman has a pattern of making allegations -- saying he has affidavits but then not producing the evidence. Traficant has accused an FBI agent of rape, the former attorney general of treason and much more without furnishing proof.

In his 14-page motion, Traficant said a typical line of questioning by Morford "and his team," a reference to FBI agents, was, "Tell us what we want to hear, the way we want to hear it, or we will indict you, too!"

Morford granted immunity from prosecution only to individuals willing to testify according to his agenda and script, Traficant said in his motion. Others, he added, were threatened with loss of property and liberty if they didn't fall in line.

Named in motion: Forty-six of Traficant's questions deal with O'Nesti, Chance, Sinclair, Sabatine, Attys. Mark S. Colucci and Henry DiBlasio, contractors Bernard J. "Pete" Bucheit and Anthony and Robert Bucci, grocery store owner Henry Nemenz and two others who worked at the congressman's saddle horse farm in Greenford.

The inference of the questions follows the same pattern -- that the potential witnesses were coerced to provide false information.

Chance is in prison. Sinclair and Nemenz could not be reached.

Colucci, who once raised an allegation of misconduct against Morford related to Traficant's farmhand, said via e-mail: "Ethically, since the matter is set for trial before a jury, it would be unfair and improper to comment at this time since this is a criminal case."

A federal judge had threatened to impose sanctions against Colucci last December for filing a "frivolous complaint" when the lawyer suggested Morford pressured the farmhand, Clarence T. Broad, to plead guilty to tampering with a grand jury witness. Colucci withdrew his complaint.

The last 16 "general" questions in Traficant's motion deal mostly with government surveillance. He wonders if the government has been completely truthful in saying that it did no court-ordered electronic spying on him.

Deadline: Even though the U.S. District Court clerk's office in Youngstown had already closed, Traficant's motions -- he filed five -- show they were time-stamped at 8:10 p.m. Monday. At the July 20 status conference, Judge Wells set Monday as his filing deadline.

The clerk's office sorted out the confusion late Tuesday morning and accepted the motions with Monday's date. Traficant had tried to fax the motions last Friday, but Judge Wells rejected them and reminded him that original signed documents must be filed with the federal clerk.

Traficant's other motions deal with evidence in his case and the judge's position that Congress' being in session is not sufficient reason to reset hearings, even though he thinks it is.

Evidence, witness statements: In a 21-page motion, loaded with footnotes, Traficant asks the judge to compel the government to disclose evidence now that is typically released closer to trial, such as statements witnesses gave during the investigation.

In an earlier filing, the government declined to turn over witness statements he wants before the witnesses testify at trial.

Prosecutors also have said they "far exceeded" their obligations of what evidence is required to be turned over at this time. So far, Traficant has 37 boxes of evidence -- including photographs of envelopes stuffed with money -- to be used against him.

The government, in its request for a protective order last month, said it is willing to turn over portions of certain grand jury transcripts, FBI interview forms and one witness statement. The evidence will go to Traficant if Judge Wells orders him to not copy the documents or publicly disclose them to anyone, including the press.

Traficant, in his two-page response filed late Monday, accused the government of requesting a partial gag order and wants the judge to deny the protective order.

The congressman also asked the judge to conduct a hearing and consider throwing out roughly 230 of his documents the government gathered from third-party sources. He maintains the documents fall under the immunity granted him in the speech and debate clause of the Constitution.

meade@vindy.com




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