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TRAFICANT INDICTMENT Staffers mum on testimony



Published: Tue, May 8, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Two men who labored at U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr.'s horse farm while on the congressional payroll say they explained their actions to the grand jury that indicted him.

As part of Traficant's 10-count indictment, the government alleges that Traficant didn't take money out of his own pocket to pay Youngstown and Niles staffers who did chores at the sprawling farm in Green Township. The charges, filed Friday, include bribery, racketeering and tax evasion.

Work at the 76-acre farm on West South Range Road included baling hay, running and repairing farm equipment, maintaining and repairing structures such as barn walls, horse stalls and a farmhouse deck, building a horse corral, converting a corn crib to another use and electrical and plumbing repair, according to the indictment.

One staffer did manual labor on at least 150 occasions, the government said.

A description of the chores falls under count seven of the indictment -- conspiracy to defraud the United States. The count also includes allegations that Traficant, of Poland, D-17th, took kickbacks from certain employees.

The congressman, who celebrates his 60th birthday today, said he will defend himself when the case goes to trial in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, likely July 16. His arraignment is Friday.

One of the former staffers who did work at the farm, George F. Buccella, serves as Trumbull County Health Department administrator and Weathersfield Township trustee. Buccella was a congressional employee at the Niles office from February 1985 to April 2000.

"I've been to the grand jury, and I don't want to get into it only because I don't know what I'm allowed to say and not allowed to say," Buccella said Monday. "I don't know what's going to happen from here on."

Buccella said he has a local lawyer but declined to identify the person.

In February 2000, when The Vindicator reported that the FBI was asking about staffers' doing work at the farm and on Traficant's boat in Washington, D.C., Buccella said that he'd labored at the farm only. The work, though, was done on his own time, he said then.

He declined Monday to offer specifics about the type of work he did at the farm. Asked about the boat, he said, "I put three pieces of duct tape on the boat at night, if you call that working."

Buccella said he hadn't yet testified at the grand jury when he quit working for Traficant a year ago. He said that he has seen the congressman once or twice in passing since then and that Traficant didn't ask about the grand jury.

"Only thing he ever said to me was, 'If they ask you any questions, tell 'em the truth, don't lie,'" Buccella said. "I wouldn't lie anyhow. I'm not going to jail. I'm not going to jail -- it's not worth it to me."

Buccella said he doesn't think he has any legal problems.

"I don't think I've done anything wrong, but that's the famous words from everybody, I'm sure," Buccella said. "I never hid anything, to my knowledge."

Part-timer: Richard A. Rovnak of Struthers served part time on the congressional staff from Oct. 1, 1990, to July 31, 1992. The dates match those described in Traficant's indictment, and Rovnak acknowledged Monday that he'd been to the grand jury.

Rovnak, too, said he has been advised to not talk about what he told the grand jury. "If the trial comes up, I don't want justice to be nullified in any shape or form," he said.

When interviewed in February 2000, before he appeared at the grand jury, Rovnak told The Vindicator that he had done plumbing and electrical work at the horse farm. He'd also run waterlines and put a water heater in for the horses.

In the early 1980s, Rovnak served as a reserve deputy when Traficant was Mahoning County sheriff. In 1983, Traficant beat federal bribery charges and made a successful run for Congress the following year.

meade@vindy.com




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