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Government: Beware of lies



Published: Thu, August 23, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The government is calling the congressman's motion 'wild' accusations.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

CLEVELAND -- In 1983, then-Mahoning County Sheriff James A. Traficant Jr. had a deputy lie under oath to save him from a mob-bribe conviction, so be wary if the sheriff-turned-indicted congressman produces any affidavits now, the government says.

The deputy's admission can be found in a footnote contained in an 18-page motion filed Wednesday afternoon in U.S. District Court by Craig S. Morford, Bernard A. Smith and Matthew B. Kall.

The assistant U.S. attorneys are prosecuting Traficant, of Poland, D-17th, on charges of racketeering, bribery and tax evasion.

The government's motion is in response to one that Traficant filed late Monday that uses 62 questions to accuse Morford, the lead prosecutor, of "mammoth misconduct."

The congressman wants the prosecutor to be removed from the case, which goes to trial Feb. 4.

What's missing: In its motion, the government repeatedly points out that the 60-year-old congressman attached no sworn affidavits to give credence to the allegations that he poses as questions.

"While this tactic may be advantageous in the court of public opinion, it should not be condoned in a court of law," the government said, calling Traficant's motion "wild" accusations.

Traficant wants U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells to hold an evidentiary hearing based on his motion, which implies that shady deals and threats were made in order to get to him.

After reviewing motions made by Traficant and the government, the judge will decide whether a hearing is warranted.

If she determines misconduct on Morford's part, another lead prosecutor would have to be named for the congressman's case.

The government, calling Traficant's hearing request a "fishing expedition," wants the judge to deny his motion, saying that he failed to produce any evidence, even though, at a July 20 status conference, he told the judge that he had a witness and would attach an affidavit with his motion.

Even if Traficant had attached affidavits to the motion, they "would have to be viewed with caution," prosecutors said.

Offered as evidence: To support its position, the government included five of 48 pages of grand jury testimony taken April 25, 2000, from William B. Pearch of Struthers, who served as a deputy when Traficant was sheriff, joined his congressional staff in 1985 and stayed until 1993.

In preparation for his 1983 trial, Traficant realized a "devastating inconsistency" existed and told Pearch to create an affidavit that would explain why some of the money Traficant said he took in 1980 from mobster Charles Carabbia as part of a "one-man sting" during his sheriff's campaign wasn't printed until 1981, the government said. Vindicator files show the amount was $10,000.

At the April 2000 grand jury, Pearch said Traficant, sometime after being indicted when sheriff -- not in 1980 -- had given him cash to hold that later would be presented as evidence of the sting and wanted the serial numbers written down. Pearch noticed some of the bills were series 1981 and realized the situation undermined Traficant's sting defense, the government said.

"Well, I'm not a rocket scientist, but I don't know how he could have bills in there series 1981 that was given to him in 1980," Pearch told the grand jury.

"He proposed that I write a statement that indicated I had borrowed a sum of money from this packet I got and ... later, I had replaced it, which would possibly account for the 1981 series' being in there."

Morford, who questioned Pearch at the grand jury in April 2000, said: "So, he was asking you to lie and prepare a false affidavit that he could provide to the court as part of his defense, is that correct?"

"Yes," Pearch answered.

"Did that trouble you, what he was asking you to do?" Morford asked.

"It bothered me ever since then," came the reply.

Pearch, 72, acknowledged at the grand jury that his affidavit was false and was created at the express direction of Traficant, the government said. Pearch testified for Traficant at the 1983 trial.

Traficant, who is not a lawyer, represented himself in 1983 and won acquittal. His defense included the sting.

He lost a civil tax case several years later in which Morford served as one of the IRS prosecutors. The judge concluded Traficant failed to declare $160,000 he took from the mob.

Current case: Traficant's latest indictment includes a charge that he tried to obstruct justice by asking one of his staff members to destroy evidence and give false testimony to the grand jury. He has opted again to be his own lawyer.

The congressman's motion to remove Morford, meanwhile, is best understood in context, the government said.

A close associate of Traficant's who testified at the grand jury recounted advice he gave the congressman, who was losing credibility before his indictment in May, by launching baseless attacks on former Attorney General Janet Reno and an FBI agent, the government said.

In a footnote, the government said Traficant went on national news programs and contended he had evidence that Reno was a lesbian, had cavorted with high-priced call girls and was being blackmailed by the Chinese government. He also alleged the FBI agent accepted bribes from the Mafia.

Instead of those tactics, the associate wanted Traficant to respond to press inquiries by issuing a blanket denial of all allegations against him and saying that the government would not be able to prove anything.

"Congressman Traficant responded that he could not play defense, but had to go on the offensive because it was the only play he had," the government said, quoting the Traficant associate's grand jury testimony.

Accusations: Traficant accuses Morford of intimidating witnesses, obstructing justice, suborning perjury, violating ethics laws and the federal bribery and gratuity statute.

In the bribery reference, he contends that Morford paid witnesses for their testimony through promises of reduced sentences.

"If Congress had intended to criminalize the conduct of prosecutors who enter into plea agreements, it could have written the law differently," was Morford's response to the lawmaker under indictment.

The congressman said a typical line of questioning by Morford "and his team" was "Tell us what we want to hear, the way we want to hear it, or we will indict you, too!"

The potential witnesses Traficant identified in his motion as being coerced in some fashion -- J.J. Cafaro, Henry Nemenz, James R. Sabatine, A. David Sugar, Atty. Henry A. DiBlasio and Anthony and Robert Bucci -- could have been contacted by the congressman through their lawyers, the government said, noting that the witnesses' lawyers were present every step of the way.

The others listed, Bernard J. "Pete" Bucheit and Attys. R. Allen Sinclair and Mark S. Colucci, represented themselves. Bucheit, who has not been charged, has since asked for a public defender.

If the congressman's allegations are true, the witnesses and their lawyers "engaged in some sort of massive conspiracy in which several of the individuals ... agreed to plead guilty to felonies, face jail time, endure public scorn and ridicule and commit perjury -- all in an attempt to frame Congressman Traficant," the government said.

Traficant wants to call Morford as a witness at trial, but the federal prosecutor said there are plenty of others who could be called to the stand "regarding these purported threats."

Morford said Traficant simply wants him as a witness for one reason: "To try and shift the focus of this case to some person other than Congressman Traficant and some issue other than his guilt."

Another matter: The government also filed a nine-page motion Wednesday opposing Traficant's request to reschedule hearings if Congress is in session.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that President Clinton could be forced to defend a civil suit unrelated to his official duties while in office, federal prosecutors said in their response.

Arguably, Traficant, as just one of 435 members of Congress, is not as unique as Clinton, who also sought to delay proceedings, contending that his responsibilities were so vast and important, the government said in a footnote.

"The government submits that [Judge Wells] has the authority to schedule matters in this criminal case involving allegations of his congressional office without regard to his congressional schedule," the government said.

meade@vindy.com




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