By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
CLEVELAND -- A legal-size notebook embossed with the congressional seal indicated that reporters weren't the only ones taking notes when J.J. Cafaro pleaded guilty to paying U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. for favors.
After Cafaro's federal court appearance Monday, Linda J. Kovachik, who works as a receptionist in Traficant's Youngstown office, told The Vindicator that she was in U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr.'s gallery taking notes for her boss.
"You never know what's going to happen," she said, smiling broadly as she left. "We're all behind Jim, all his staff."
What's scheduled to happen is that Cafaro, whose family develops shopping malls, will testify against Traficant in February. The 17th District congressman faces a 10-count indictment that includes charges of bribery, racketeering and tax evasion.
Terms of plea: Cafaro, 49, of Liberty, waived his right to indictment Monday and pleaded guilty to a one-count criminal information. The charge, conspiracy to violate the federal bribery statute, states he provided an illegal gratuity to Traficant, 60, of Poland.
The maximum penalty is five years in prison and $250,000 fine, followed by up to three years' supervised release.
If Cafaro fulfills the government's request to provide "truthful, complete and forthright information whenever, wherever, to whomever, and in whatever form," he faces zero to six months' incarceration. At that level, he also is eligible for probation when sentenced, which is expected to take place after Traficant's trial.
"We won't know the value of his cooperation until after the trial," Craig S. Morford, an assistant U.S. attorney, told the judge, who had wanted to sentence Cafaro in August. Traficant, who is not a lawyer, has decided to represent himself at trial and is awaiting 100 boxes of documents that make up the bulk of the government's case against him.
Free on bond: As with Traficant, Cafaro is free on $50,000 unsecured bond. The real estate mogul may travel nationwide for work with pretrial services supervision and can visit without restrictions Maryland, where he has a home, Washington, D.C., northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
Morford offered no objection. "We do not consider him a flight risk. We've been in negotiations with him for several weeks."
Cafaro's charge was filed May 4 in federal court, five minutes after Traficant's indictment was filed. Morford said there were "no side deals or undisclosed items" related to Cafaro's plea agreement.
Cafaro, dressed in blue, traveled to court with his lawyer only, no family members, and brought his passport to surrender to the court. He was congenial and upbeat with reporters, but had no comment.
"Did anyone force you to plead guilty?" Judge Oliver asked.
"No, your honor," Cafaro answered.
"Did you do what you're charged with doing?"
"Yes, your honor."
The judge cautioned Cafaro that a conviction could mean the loss of his right to vote and hold public office. In the past Cafaro has entertained serious thoughts of running for U.S. Senate or Congress.
In response to questions about his background and ability to plead, Cafaro told the judge that he had attended college for two years and has been with the Cafaro Co. since 1970. He said he was not receiving treatment from a physician or psychiatrist and had not consumed alcohol in the past 24 hours.
Government's case: Morford told the judge that had the case gone to trial, the government would have proved that a conspiracy existed between Cafaro, Traficant and two employees of Cafaro's USAerospace Group -- Richard Detore and Albert Lange. Traficant demanded and received things of value for official acts, the federal prosecutor said.
Cafaro's 10-page plea agreement states that he gave Traficant $13,000 in cash and paid more than $20,000 for repairs to the congressman's houseboat in Washington, D.C. For purposes of the charge, the payments were considered as a single gratuity.
Detore and Lange, both of whom live in Virginia, have not been charged.
Cafaro's Cleveland lawyer, Geoffrey S. Mearns, stressed that what his client did was not bribery because no quid pro quo existed, that is, giving something of value in return for a specific act. The lawyer said Cafaro "engaged in transactions with Traficant hoping and expecting" that the congressman would continue to use his influence to promote laser technology developed by USAG, based in Manassas, Va. with the Federal Aviation Administration.
At the time, in 1998, Traficant served on the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on aviation.
Cafaro's conduct crossed the line between permissible, legitimate lobbying and unlawful conduct and he accepts responsibility, his lawyer said on the courthouse steps.
A reporter asked Mearns if Cafaro had spoken to Traficant, his longtime friend, since the indictment. "Not that I'm aware of," the lawyer said.
The government had wanted Cafaro's case transferred to Judge Lesley B. Wells, who will preside over Traficant's trial, but she had perceived a potential conflict.
A motion filed by Mearns stated that Judge Wells' husband is a partner at Squire Sanders & amp; Dempsey, which has performed legal work on behalf of USAG to obtain the laser-guidance patents that are at issue in the case.
Third to plead guilty: Cafaro is the third so far to plead guilty as a result of the FBI's ongoing Mahoning Valley corruption probe that has focused on Traficant since March 1999.
A. David Sugar of New Middletown, president of Honey Creek Contracting, and Clarence T. Broad of Salem, who did chores at Traficant's horse farm in Greenford, pleaded guilty last fall.
Sugar committed perjury, obstruction of justice and witness tampering. His sentence is deferred and he is expected to testify at the congressman's trial, as are other prominent businessmen.
Broad received a 27-month sentence after he admitted hatching a plot to kill Sandra J. Ferrante, who trained and showed Traficant saddle horses. Broad, who pleaded guilty to tampering with a grand jury witness, didn't want her to testify at the grand jury investigating the congressman.