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YOUNGSTOWN Traficant: Keep my case evidence private



Published: Sat, September 8, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. objects to evidence the government is using and doesn't want any more of the "sensitive" evidence he has to be made public.

Traficant met U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells' Friday deadline for evidence against the lead prosecutor on his case by filing a nine-page motion that requests she give him until Oct. 3 to produce more evidence.

He attached 71 pages of exhibits, many of which he'd already filed in previous motions.

The judge set Friday's deadline after Traficant submitted two motions without affidavits to back up his claim that Craig. S. Morford, an assistant U.S. attorney, should be removed from his racketeering case.

Traficant then filed a third motion with two affidavits, one which the government dismissed as hearsay and the other as irrelevant to Morford. The congressman had also submitted a letter and transcript of a recorded phone conversation, neither of which are sworn statements.

Prosecutors' response: Traficant's accusations not only lack basis, they defy common sense, prosecutors said in their response to the third motion the congressman filed. 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.

If the judge gives the 17th District congressman more time, he wants her to view privately in her chambers the additional evidence he submits or place the materials under seal. Either way, the evidence would not become public.

The judge's failure to grant his request would constitute grave error, Traficant said.

Exposure concerns: The 60-year-old congressman contends that he has "factual matters" to present to the court but has concerns that, if the evidence is exposed publicly, Morford and others will attempt to undermine it through intimidation of witnesses and other misconduct.

Traficant, in his response Friday, also objected to Morford's release of portions of grand jury testimony, calling it illegal. The congressman submitted a Vindicator story to illustrate the use of such testimony, which he says is a malicious intent to sour a future jury pool in favor of the government's case.

The headline of the story said: "Government: Beware of lies." The story began: In 1983, then-Mahoning County Sheriff James A. Traficant Jr. had a deputy lie under oath to save him from a mob-bribe conviction, so be wary if the sheriff-turned-indicted congressman produces any affidavits now, the government says.

The congressman, in his response Friday, said he found an application for surveillance in prosecution evidence turned over to him, despite Morford's assertion that the government didn't request electronic surveillance.

The attached exhibit, dated Nov. 19, 1999, shows that the FBI, for "Operation Hijacked Trust," wanted to follow Traficant and Charles O'Nesti, his former top local aide, on Nov. 20. O'Nesti died in February 2000 before being sentenced in an unrelated racketeering case.

The November 1999 investigation dealt with allegations that Traficant took bribes from contractors. So far, two contractors and another businessman have pleaded guilty in the Traficant investigation and are expected to testify against him.

FBI exhibit: The agent, Richard Denholm, wanted to record a meeting that November between Traficant, O'Nesti and Sam Traficanti of Poland and then follow them.

Denholm wanted to use ground, aerial and photo surveillance and said money was available for overnight lodging.

The request form asks "Is subject surveillance conscious?" and requires a rating, from 1 to 10. The agent filled in "11."

There's also a handwritten notation that the "subject [Traficant] is paranoid about surveillance" and his hangouts are "truck stops and the farm -- 6908 South Range Road." Traficant has a horse farm at that address in Greenford.

There's no indication that the surveillance took place or if it did, how it was documented.

The congressman said Morford "has failed to submit to the defendant taped conversations in the possession of the government that are intended to be used in this trial ..." The trial is set for Feb. 4.

Traficant also filed an affidavit Friday signed by James A. Kerchum to "demonstrate this entire investigation spans 18 years." Kerchum, who describes himself as a former paid FBI informant, swore under oath that Traficant has been an FBI target since 1983 because he beat the government in federal court then.

Kerchum's affidavit lists one of his contacts as Lewis J. Slay, district supervisor, U.S. Department of Justice.

The Vindicator, after receiving a Kerchum affidavit and interviewing him last year, located Slay in July 2000 in Greenville, Miss., where he works as a U.S. probation officer, assigned to the federal court there. Slay didn't know Kerchum.

"That fella [Kerchum] has a big problem -- that's flat-out lies," Slay said.

Arrest: Vindicator files show that police arrested Kerchum in April 1999 after finding bomb-making materials and numerous guns in his home. He pleaded guilty to one federal gun charge and was placed on house arrest.

Traficant, meanwhile, alleges Morford and others acted with malice and that his 10-count indictment was predicated on "trickery, threats, intimidation and coercion."

Traficant wants to question Morford under oath at an evidentiary hearing, and if the judge doesn't hold the hearing, the congressman asserts that she would be denying him the right to a fair trial.

Prosecutors want Judge Wells to deny Traficant's request for an evidentiary hearing; 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.

meade@vindy.com




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