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Finance director says she'll collect tax on any bribes that happened in city



Published: Sat, May 19, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The finance director recalled that a long time ago when the congressman was sheriff and beat a bribery charge, he still didn't beat the IRS.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- If U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. pleads guilty to -- or is found guilty of -- taking bribes within city limits, the city finance director wants to collect tax on the income.

"I'm reading the tax code right now," Barbara Burtner said Friday. "Taxable incomes means wages, salaries and other compensation paid by an employer or employers before any deductions -- and or -- net profits from the operation of a business, profession or other enterprise or activity."

The city income tax is 2.25 percent.

Burtner said an alleged exchange of $13,000 in cash caught her attention in Traficant's 10-count federal indictment because it happened near Youngstown State University. YSU is in the city.

Background: J.J. Cafaro, 49, of Liberty, whose family develops shopping malls, admitted earlier this week in federal court that he gave Traficant $13,000 in cash as they drove near YSU and paid more than $20,000 for repairs to the congressman's houseboat in Washington, D.C. In exchange, Cafaro hoped that Traficant would use his influence with the Federal Aviation Administration to promote laser technology developed by a Cafaro company based in Virginia.

"The issue might be where did [Traficant] perform the service that the money was paid for -- I don't know, it's kind of technical," Burtner said. "It appears to me at first blush that it probably would be a taxable transaction."

The indictment means nothing at this time because Traficant is innocent until proved guilty, Burtner said. The time to act would be if he pleads guilty or is found guilty at trial in February.

"That's how they got him the last time, the Justice Department didn't get him; the IRS got him," Burtner said. "He had to pay tax on money he took when he was sheriff."

When Mahoning County sheriff in 1983, Traficant defended himself on a federal bribery charge, and the jury acquitted him. A U.S. Tax Court judge, though, ruled in 1987 that Traficant took $108,000 in mob bribes during the 1980 sheriff's race and ordered him to pay nearly $190,000 in penalties and interest.

The IRS has garnisheed the wages of the 60-year-old congressman since he lost his final appeal in 1989, and his most recent financial disclosure form shows he still owes the IRS between $15,000 and $50,000.

"I've got to look anywhere I can to find money," Burtner said. "Obviously, for the IRS, criminal activity is still an activity. ... Our definitions are similar to those and I'm sure looking into it."

If more money exchanges alleged in the congressman's indictment took place in the city and he admits them or is found guilty, Burtner said she'll include those, too.

"We shall see. You never can say this job is boring," Burtner said with a chuckle. "There's an old Chinese proverb that says 'May you live in interesting times,' I always say 'May you live in an interesting city' -- and we do."

Burtner said that when her research is done, she'll give it to the law department to review.

meade@vindy.com




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