FEDERAL COURT Government rebuts Traficant's strategy
The congressman's fourth motion asking to remove the lead prosecutor was expected today.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
CLEVELAND -- U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. needs two other men to illustrate prosecutorial misconduct in his case, since one man he picked committed perjury and the other bribery, the government says.
In a 23-page response filed late Thursday in U.S. District Court, the government answered Traficant's third try at removing Craig S. Morford, the lead prosecutor in his racketeering case. The trial is set for Feb. 4.
The government attached 57 pages of exhibits, including a Vindicator story in which two lawyers representing witnesses in the Traficant case soundly rejected any notion of wrongdoing by Morford or the FBI.
A government note on the newspaper's story indicates prosecutors had labeled (for retrieval purposes) the Traficant investigation "Operation Hijacked Trust" and classified it as "Legislative Corruption/Youngstown."
What's presented: Among the exhibits are:
*Fourteen pages of grand jury testimony.
*A selection of Traficant's press releases that attack federal prosecutors and the FBI.
*A transcript of his appearance on the Fox News Channel's Hannity and Colmes show in which he made bizarre accusations against former Attorney General Janet Reno without providing any proof.
Prosecutors said Traficant has a history of diverting attention from himself by making false allegations against his accusers, and the attached documents show "the incredible extent" he's willing to go to now with the same strategy.
Throughout the response, prosecutors deride Traficant's evidence and accuse him of "hurling baseless and irrelevant accusations," trying to hedge when told by the court to disclose his proof and then trying to stall until November.
Morford has said that if an evidentiary hearing is held, it has to be soon. If the judge determines Morford acted improperly, he would be precluded from prosecuting Traficant and another assistant U.S. attorney would have to step in.
The government noted Thursday that, at a July 20 status conference, Traficant said it wasn't his intention to remove Morford and that he wanted to face the prosecutor at trial.
What's expected: The 17th District congressman was expected to file a fourth motion today, the deadline set by U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells.
Congress is back in session with a light schedule after its summer recess, so the Poland Democrat decided to stay home to work on his case, his spokesman said.
Judge Wells, after receiving two motions from Traficant filled with accusatory questions he wants to ask Morford at an evidentiary hearing, ordered the 60-year-old congressman to provide affidavits.
Last week, Traficant's third motion contained two affidavits, a letter from Atty. Henry A. DiBlasio and a 27-page transcript of an audiotaped conversation Traficant had with Richard Detore, former U.S. Aerospace Group chief operating officer in Virginia.
There's no indication that Detore knew he was being recorded.
DiBlasio, who served as the congressman's administrative assistant for 14 years, and Detore are both referenced in Traficant's 10-count indictment by title only.
The congressman contended that their statements in the letter and transcript would prove the "Gestapo government" did whatever it took to frame him.
Response to affidavits: In their response Thursday, federal prosecutors Morford, Bernard A. Smith and Matthew B. Kall dismissed one affidavit as third-party hearsay and the other as completely irrelevant.
The government said the Jan. 20, 2000, letter to Traficant from DiBlasio has nothing to do with Morford. The letter accuses one IRS and two FBI agents of strong-arm tactics to get something on Traficant.
DiBlasio "has been advised through counsel that the government believes he committed perjury before the grand jury and that it is investigating him for that offense," prosecutors said in a footnote contained in Thursday's filing.
DiBlasio testified before the grand jury March 2, 2000, roughly six weeks after he sent Traficant the letter that alleged coercion on the part of the Youngstown agents who had interviewed him at his retirement home in Florida.
At the grand jury, DiBlasio told Morford that he intended to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. DiBlasio was granted immunity and compelled to testify.
Thursday, the government filed only 14 pages of the grand jury transcript, which, judging by the page numbers, went well beyond 120 pages.
At the grand jury, DiBlasio backed off the statements he made in his letter to Traficant, saying he was sick at the time and nervous about being interviewed and by the questions asked. DiBlasio also acknowledged that Traficant asked him to write the letter.
What's alleged: Traficant's indictment states that DiBlasio diverted a portion of his salary to the congressman and, when DiBlasio went off the payroll in late 1998, he explained the procedure to his replacement, Atty. R. Allen Sinclair.
Sinclair continued the practice, putting $2,500 in an envelope each month and slipping it under the door at 11 Overhill Road in Boardman, once a Traficant district office rented from DiBlasio, then from Sinclair, the government said.
Sinclair is referenced in the indictment by title only.
Prosecutors said it "speaks volumes" that Traficant produced no sworn affidavit from DiBlasio.
The conversation Traficant recorded Aug. 1 with Detore was made two weeks after the congressman said in court that he already had evidence proving a pattern of prosecutorial misconduct, the government said Thursday in court papers.
Detore, "an unindicted co-conspirator in this case, has also been advised through counsel that the government believes he violated the bribery statute with Congressman Traficant and that it is investigating him for that offense," prosecutors said in a footnote.
J.J. Cafaro, of the mall development family, was once affiliated with USAG and has pleaded guilty to bribing Traficant. Detore took part in a scheme to conceal Cafaro's repairs to and purchase of the congressman's houseboat, the government said.
Traficant contends that Cafaro committed perjury when he testified in 1997 at the racketeering trial of then-Mahoning County Sheriff Phil Chance.
One of the questions Traficant wants to ask Morford is: "Did you make, or did you cause an offer to be made, to Sheriff Chance that if he 'gave us anything on Jim Traficant, we'll fill in the blanks and you will get no jail time?' "
In its response, the government said any perjury by Cafaro, a defense witness in the Chance trial, would be irrelevant to Traficant's allegation that Morford committed misconduct in his dealings with Chance.
Throughout the taped conversation, Detore laments that he did nothing wrong and complains about being threatened with an IRS audit and encouraged by Morford and others to lie or be indicted as a co-conspirator.
They "commiserate about their respective criminal exposure and attempt to shift blame away from their own misconduct by alleging government misconduct," prosecutors said.
As with DiBlasio, the government said it "speaks volumes" that Traficant didn't get an affidavit from Detore.
About conspiracy theory: Traficant's accusations not only lack basis, they defy common sense, prosecutors said. If "mammoth misconduct" took place, as he contends, a conspiracy of "mammoth proportions" would be needed, the government said.
Lawyers would have told their clients to plead guilty to crimes they didn't commit and got them to lie under oath about what Traficant did.
Morford would have risked his career to frame Traficant for some unexplained reason, the government said.
"The only misconduct committed in this case is that charged against the congressman," the government said.
Prosecutors want Judge Wells to deny Traficant's request for an evidentiary hearing, at which he would question Morford; deny the congressman's request to call Morford as a witness at trial; deny his request to remove Morford from the case; and prohibit the congressman from raising his inflammatory accusations at trial.