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TRAFICANT CASE Rep arraigned again



Published: Sat, November 10, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The congressman repeatedly told a magistrate that he has no interest in hiring an attorney.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

CLEVELAND -- U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. has not started preparing his defense for a trial that is less than four months away.

"The case isn't here yet," Traficant told reporters Friday as he stopped traffic in downtown Cleveland, walking to his car after his arraignment on a superseding indictment. "As an old football player, I'll wait to see what I'm going to face before I prepare for it."

Traficant, who is facing 10 criminal counts including bribery and racketeering, said he expects another superseding indictment against him. Traficant, of Poland, D-17th, also expects more people to be indicted in relation to his case.

"I have to wait to see what happens here," said Traficant, who is defending himself though he's not a lawyer. "I think they have a pretty good strategy this time. They put 20 counts on the board and all they need is one [conviction]. It's not going to be easy. I'll have to tackle each [count] as if it was an individual trial."

Traficant said he was not sure if he'd have the time to prepare an adequate defense in time for the Feb. 4 trial.

"I'm not asking for a delay, but even the most astute attorney would be looking for ample time to prepare this case," he said during his arraignment.

Effect on job: Traficant said he was concerned that his defense could affect his ability to represent the Mahoning Valley in Congress.

But he also said he originally asked that the trial take place in November -- something assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Morford, who is prosecuting the case, strongly disputed -- and said he wanted to go forward.

"If you're going to fight, you might as well fight," Traficant said before the arraignment, at which he pleaded innocent.

On defending himself: Traficant said an attorney would be worthless to him because he could explain his defense better than a lawyer.

"When you get through all the shenanigans of legal mumbo-jumbo, you get down to a jury," he said. "A jury's about right and wrong, truth and untruth and the distortion of truth."

Traficant successfully defended himself in 1983 on bribery charges while he was Mahoning County sheriff.

Traficant contends federal prosecutors want the trial held in February so it would be closer to the Democratic primary in May and possibly hurt his chances for re-election to a 10th term in the House of Representatives.

"I think they want to push me on into a primary and hope that if there is no decision [in the trial] that there'll be an election decision" to remove him, Traficant said.

Traficant is accused of accepting money, free labor, materials and meals from companies in exchange for providing assistance on their behalf with the federal government.

"My job is to help every company in my district and I've done a hell of a job with that," he said before the arraignment. Federal prosecutors "want me more than Jesse James and Billy the Kid."

Second arraignment: This was the second time Traficant was arraigned on the 10 felony counts. He was first arraigned in May shortly after being indicted. A superseding indictment was unsealed two weeks ago that added a few more details to Traficant's indictment and named Richard E. Detore, a former executive with USAerospace Group, as his co-defendant. Detore will be arraigned Nov. 27.

Traficant was not as combative with the judge overseeing Friday's arraignment as he was in May. But that didn't stop the congressman from being confrontational at times with U.S. Magistrate Judge William H. Baughman Jr.

Traficant repeatedly complained about the judge's line of questioning regarding his decision to defend himself.

"I have been preached to now for about four months about not having an attorney," Traficant said. "I do not want any attorney. If the court forces an attorney on me, we'll have a dead-bang appeal."

The judge said that he understood Traficant's statements about not wanting an attorney but that he was still under legal obligation to ask numerous questions about the congressman's defending himself.

skolnick@vindy.com




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