17TH DISTRICT U.S. has pages withheld by Traficant
The government has given early notice of what it intends to use at the congressman's trial.
By PATRICIA MEADE
and DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITERS
CLEVELAND -- The government has 233 pages of documents, including press releases, that U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., who is under indictment, withheld when his office records were subpoenaed.
Federal prosecutors want the 17th District congressman to review the 1.5-inch mound of paper they received from "third parties" and let them know if he has any objections to the evidence being used at his trial, scheduled to begin Feb. 4. He faces a 10-count indictment that includes racketeering, bribery and tax evasion charges.
The 60-year-old Poland Democrat could raise objections to the evidence based on congressional immunity found in the Speech or Debate Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Regardless of content, statements made on the House floor or in committee rooms are protected speech under the clause.
The Constitution specifies that members of Congress "shall not be questioned in any other place" for "any speech or debate in either House."
Among the 233 pages of documents, 31 pages represent 14 pieces of proposed legislation, Congressional Record transcripts or Traficant testimony before congressional committees.
The rest of the evidence is primarily correspondence between Traficant and federal agencies and businessmen for whom he lobbied.
Subpoenaed records: The government wrote that Traficant contacted the U.S. House's Office of General Counsel after his office records were subpoenaed in December 1999. He asked that the general counsel review the records and determine whether he could resist production of the documents on the grounds of the speech or debate clause privilege.
"Although it is possible that some of the documents produced by third parties were possessed [by Traficant] and unilaterally deemed privileged and therefore not produced, we have no way of making such determination," the government said. "Traficant refused even to identify any of the documents (including public documents like press releases) that he considered privileged."
Some of the documents came from J.J. Cafaro, a vice president of the Cafaro Co., and Bernard J. "Pete" Bucheit of Bucheit International, both of whom Traficant is accused of shaking down.
In return for cash, goods or services, Traficant lobbied on behalf of a laser-guidance system developed by USAerospace Group, Cafaro's company, and Bucheit's construction projects in Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, the government said.
Traficant is charged with accepting free labor and materials for his horse farm in 1993 from Bucheit and conspiring to violate the federal bribery statute with officers of USAG from November 1997 to March 2000.
The government said that a year before formation of the conspiracy, Traficant set the groundwork for his illegal solicitations by attempting to convince Cafaro and other USAG officials that he was key to their efforts to obtain both FAA certification and lucrative federal contracts.
Former top aide: According to the documents filed by the federal government, Paul P. Marcone, Traficant's top aide until his November resignation to take another job, served as an intermediary between Traficant and USAG officials.
Contacted Monday, Marcone said he was heavily involved in working with USAG officials, but only because he and Traficant believed in the company's laser-guidance technology.
"There's nothing unusual about a member of Congress pushing a safety measure, particularly because [Traficant] was on the House Transportation Committee at the time," Marcone said. "The congressman did meet a lot with company officials, but there was a lot going on and there were very complicated issues."
Marcone acknowledged he received one or two free meals courtesy of USAG officials, but he said he would have been more than willing to pick up the tab if asked. Marcone said Traficant attended those dinners.
The indictment says USAG gave Traficant $3,200 in free meals, about $40,000 for improvements and a down payment on the purchase of his houseboat, and a generator and welder for the boat.
"I never witnessed the congressman doing anything wrong," Marcone said. "Maybe I was naive, but the congressman and I were very enthusiastic about this technology. We thought we were going to make a difference with something that would save lives."
Lobbying for Bucheit: Traficant's efforts on behalf of Bucheit included a letter to then-Vice President Al Gore in 1994, just after Bucheit arranged for a $26,000 construction project at the congressman's horse farm in Greenford. Bucheit never collected for the work, the government said.
The government wrote that the documents are relevant to show that Traficant, "acting outside of his legislative function, made statements and assertions aimed at leading third parties to believe that he was performing and would continue to perform officials acts on their behalf and that he did so to further his schemes to seek, demand, receive and accept things of personal value for and because of those acts."
Although Traficant's trial is more than six months away, the government wants to resolve as soon as possible the question of whether any documents will be suppressed. Prosecutors have asked U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells to establish a schedule for hearings to keep things on track.
"The documents are relevant to the subject charges and will be used at trial, absent a valid assertion of privilege by Congressman Traficant," the government wrote.