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Traficant's indictment is trouble for him and area



Published: Sat, May 5, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Under almost any other circumstances, we would call for U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. to step down now. He has been indicted on serious charges, substantial evidence has been presented against him and his ability to function as a strong advocate for the Valley's best interests has been damaged.

We won't make that call, however, for two reasons. First, because it would be whistling in the wind; he's not about to step down at this point. Second, because the people of the 17th District gave him a majority vote twice last year, in the primary and general elections. He faced strong candidates in both elections and any voter going to the polls had every reason to know that Traficant almost certainly would be indicted before he finished his ninth term. Still, they elected him.

We're going to have to sit back and watch the wheels of justice turn, regardless of how slowly they grind.

If this case goes to trial, as Traficant has pledged it will, government prosecutors will have to put on a tighter case than they did in 1983 when Traficant was acquitted on bribery and tax evasion charges.

A green judge and an over-confident prosecutor allowed a boisterous and sometimes profane Traficant to turn that courtroom into a circus. Acting as his own lawyer, Traficant was able to testify in his own behalf and without ever being subject to cross-examination.

The federal judge hearing this case is going to have to keep a tight rein on the proceedings. There is no reason to give Traficant unusual latitude in serving as his own lawyer since he's an experienced litigator. In fact, he has bragged about being able to take on a whole team of federal prosecutors single-handed and beat them at their own game.

Crime and punishment: Friday's indictment has been anticipated for such a long time that it is almost anticlimactic. That the amounts of money involved are not enormous may cause some people to dismiss these crimes as insignificant. They are not. If the congressman profited by his position of influence and trust in anyway other than his government-issued paycheck, it was wrong.

If he took cash or things of value from people who were expecting his help in his capacity as a congressman, that's a violation of law. It should not and cannot be minimized.

There are those who will say "everybody does it." Not so. Most congressmen don't take kickbacks from employees, accept cash as a condition for constituent service or evade paying taxes on their income. Any who do should be prosecuted. Any who are convicted should go to jail. And those who are convicted deserve the contempt of the voters they betrayed, not their sympathy or understanding.

It should be that way for every congressman in every congressional district. And it should be no less so for Traficant and the people of the Mahoning Valley

What's ahead: These are going to be difficult times for the Mahoning Valley. Once again, the national spotlight is on this area and what it's showing is not pretty. The congressman, already on the outside of congressional decision-making by virtue of not having a committee assignment, is going to be distracted as he prepares to defend himself.

There may be those in Congress who try to take advantage of the situation by attempting to ignore the legitimate needs of the Valley. We would caution both political parties and, especially, the Ohio delegation against kicking the Valley while it is down.

Mahoning Valley residents may occasionally make a mistake when they go to the polls, but vote they do -- in local, state and national races.




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