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Indictment alleges Traficant promoted product for favors



Published: Sun, May 13, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Cafaro's company gave the congressman money for improvements to Traficant's houseboat and later to buy it, the indictment says

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- J.J. Cafaro sought the assistance of his congressman, U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., in November 1997 to get his company's laser-guidance technology certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, a move that would mean millions of dollars for his business.

Traficant, of Poland, D-17th, said he would help, but it would cost Cafaro, according to a 10-count federal indictment of the congressman.

The price turned out to be $3,200 in free meals, about $40,000 for improvements and the eventual purchase of Traficant's houseboat, and a generator and welder for the boat, the indictment reads.

Cafaro's USAerospace Group, a Manassas, Va., company that owns the patent for laser visual guidance technology, footed the bill for the Traficant fees, according to the indictment.

Allegation: In exchange, federal prosecutors say, Traficant, between Feb. 4, 1998, and July 28, 1998, "took numerous official actions to promote the laser-guidance technology marketed by USAG, including actions to encourage certification of the technology by the FAA and to promote use of the technology by the FAA, the United States Army, and the United States Coast Guard."

Among the assistance Traficant, then a senior Democratic member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on aviation, gave USAG:

UIssued four press releases between March 27, 1998, and Aug. 4, 1998, and a December 1999 column released to local publications touting airplane enhanced vision technologies. USAG was never mentioned by name in any of the statements.

U Sent a letter in April 1998 to Jane Garvey, the FAA's administrator, promoting the company's technology and persuading her to see it in action once.

U Attended a demonstration of the technology in Manassas around Feb. 4, 1998.

U Introduced three pieces of legislation requiring the FAA and the military to study the use of USAG's technology. On Aug. 4, 1998, the House passed a Traficant bill amendment that required the FAA to conduct a feasibility study to require airports to install the USAG's enhanced vision technology. But he failed to get through legislation requiring airports to install the technology.

A contract with the FAA would have brought in millions of dollars to the company.

Price of systems: The price of a USAG complete laser visual landing system in 1998 ranged from $315,077 to $477,528, according to company documents. A smaller portable system ran from $112,000 to $239,000.

The technology provides pilots with a visual flight path if conventional landing light systems malfunctioned.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said USAG's technology was legitimate, but she was not familiar enough with it to determine why the federal agency did not move ahead with certifying it.

The first public statement Traficant released about laser-guidance technology was March 27, 1998, when he used a Korean Airlines plane crash in Guam as an example of a tragedy that possibly could have been avoided with the use of the technology.

"One of the contributing factors in the crash may have been the adverse weather which prevented the pilots from making visual contact with the runway," he wrote. "This type of crash -- a controlled flight into terrain -- represents one-quarter of all commercial airplane accidents worldwide."

Introduced bill: Before issuing the press release, Traficant introduced an Airport Safety Act bill that would have required all U.S. airports to install enhanced vision technologies to replace or enhance conventional landing light systems over a 10-year period. The bill, which was never passed into law, also called for the federal government to reallocate money to pay for the work.

On April 15, 1998, Traficant issued a press release urging the FAA to make the installation of enhanced vision technologies at airports part of the Clinton administration's aviation safety agenda.

Traficant instructed a staff member at his Youngstown office to give a copy of that release to Cafaro, according to his indictment. The release quoted Traficant's letter to Garvey, in which he wrote, "Enhanced vision technologies should be an integral part" of the FAA's safety policy.

In a release issued June 17, 1998 -- the same date the indictment said Traficant told an USAG official that he was going to ask Garvey to view the company's technology -- Traficant said a House aviation panel had approved his amendment promoting the company's technology.

About a month after that release, USAG's chief operating officer -- identified as Richard Detore in company documents -- told Cafaro that Traficant was having financial problems with his boat, the indictment reads.

The indictment says the company official informed Cafaro that Traficant owed about $26,000 on a loan on the boat, which also needed major repair work and that the congressman could not sell it until the repairs were made.

Also, the official told Cafaro that given the value of Traficant's assistance to the company, USAG could help the congressman by purchasing the boat, paying for the needed repairs and then use the boat to demonstrate the nautical applications of the company's technology, according to the indictment.

"Although the purchase of defendant Traficant's boat was not in the best interest of USAG from a business standpoint, Cafaro agreed to purchase the boat from defendant Traficant as a favor to defendant Traficant for and because of the official actions defendant Traficant had taken and would take on behalf of USAG," the indictment reads.

Repeated attempts to contact Lawrence Huntsman, Detore's attorney in Fairfax, Va., were unsuccessful.

The indictment says Cafaro had an employee buy a cashier's check for $26,948 on July 28, 1998, in Traficant's name payable to Nations Bank, which held the boat loan.

But the congressman expressed concern, according to the indictment, "saying he feared it would look bad if it ever became public that Cafaro had purchased the boat during the time defendant Traficant was promoting the technology of Cafaro's company. Accordingly, defendant Traficant said they would have to find another way to complete the sale."

The indictment said Traficant, Cafaro, the COO, and USAG's chief engineer -- who is identified in company literature as Albert Lange, who replaced Detore as COO in March 2000 -- came up with a plan to conceal Cafaro's purchase by having the engineer buy the boat.

Traficant and Lange wrote an agreement that called for the engineer to pay for repairs to the congressman's boat, which ended up being $26,000, and then pay $26,000 for the boat, the indictment reads.

Allegation of payment: In October or November 1998, the indictment says, Traficant complained to Cafaro that he was experiencing financial difficulties and asked for an advance on the $26,000 purchase. On Nov. 14, 1998, Cafaro gave Traficant $13,000 in an envelope near Youngstown State University, the indictment says. The indictment does not say if Traficant ever received the other $13,000.

In April or May 1999, Traficant asked Detore if USAG had a generator and a welder he could use, the indictment says. Based on the request, USAG bought the equipment for the congressman because of the action he had taken and would take on behalf of the company, the indictment says.

The congressman continued to help promote the company's technology through February 2000, the indictment says. In return, the government says USAG's engineer gave Traficant $2,172 to reimburse him for money he spent for repairs, slip fees and other expenses for his boat.

In a December 1999 column given to Mahoning Valley publications, Traficant promotes the use of enhanced vision technologies, saying that without it, "we can expect to see a major airline accident at least once a month by the year 2020."

Traficant wrote that the technology is "so urgently needed" and was "a dramatic breakthrough in improving flight crew situational awareness during airplane landings."

skolnick@vindy.com




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