By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
BOARDMAN -- U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. engaged in a debate with Vindicator columnist Bertram DeSouza today about the congressman's claims of FBI corruption.
During his second day as guest host of WKBN-AM's morning show, Traficant of Poland, D-17th, invited DeSouza, a man who the congressman said kills political careers, into the studio for about an hour.
Traficant wanted to know why the local press has not exposed FBI corruption.
In response, DeSouza said articles have been written about the accusations. He also asked the congressman why he did not investigate the allegations when he was Mahoning County sheriff from 1981 to 1985.
"What I did psychologically was reduce crime and completely destroy the Mafia in the Valley," Traficant said.
Why the switch: Traficant said he feared for his life for speaking out about organized crime and, instead of remaining sheriff, he opted to run for Congress.
Traficant successfully defended himself in 1983 against charges he accepted mob bribes while sheriff. He lost a tax case in 1987 stemming from the same issues.
He had promised to expose corruption in the U.S. Department of Justice and talk about his 10-count criminal indictment during his stint on WKBN, but he didn't do much of either during his first day on the air Tuesday.
What he did do: Traficant gave his standard lines about his case: He would defend himself; his odds of winning are astronomical, but he will succeed; and he will fight "the undefeated U.S. attorneys like a junkyard dog."
When asked after Tuesday's radio appearance why he did not discuss the case, Traficant at first insisted he never promised to do so. When pressed further and told he issued a press release saying he would talk about the case on the show, Traficant said to do so would have been a mistake.
"It would have been improper to talk about it," he said. "I don't even know what the case is. I haven't gone to discovery. I will have to see the case and go from there."
Traficant, charged with bribery, racketeering and tax evasion, said if he talked about the case, federal prosecutors would seek to move the trial out of Cleveland. Traficant said that is where he wants the case to be heard.
His evidence: After the broadcast, Traficant released documents he says show certain local FBI officials were on the Mafia payroll. The congressman added that the documents show former local Mafia boss Charles Carabbia was the victim of a mob hit and the FBI did nothing to investigate the case.
The documents include the testimony of a Mafia member in front of a U.S. Senate committee in 1988, the 1998 statement of a "mob informant," a 2000 affidavit of a Girard woman, a 2000 affidavit of a Traficant staffer, and a 1996 wiretap of former local mob boss Lenny Strollo.
He then said it was the local media's responsibility to carry on his investigation.
Traficant's radio appearance attracted a national audience with the show simulcast by C-SPAN.
Listening audience: Traficant took numerous calls, but only one from the Mahoning Valley -- that of a former deputy who worked for the congressman when he was Mahoning County sheriff. Traficant said he gave preference to national callers because of the C-SPAN simulcast and would take local callers the rest of the week. Also, radio stations in Cleveland and Toledo broadcast the show live.
Objection: Traficant drew about 50 protesters to the Clear Channel offices on South Avenue. The protesters said Clear Channel was wrong for giving Traficant an open public forum he could use to poison the potential jury pool for his trial, which is set to begin Feb. 4.
Bill Kelly, Clear Channel's vice president and market manager, said he was satisfied with Traficant's first day on the air.
"The board was full of calls," he said.