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Prosecutors want filings to end



Published: Fri, September 14, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



In a motion filed Thursday, prosecutors asked that all of Traficant's motions be denied.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

CLEVELAND -- U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., "desperate and angry" at having his anti-government evidence exposed as fiction, shouldn't be permitted to file even more of it under seal, prosecutors say.

Traficant had from July 20 to Sept. 7 to provide U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells with evidence he said he had to prove that Craig S. Morford, an assistant U.S. attorney, committed prosecutorial misconduct.

The 17th District congressman filed four motions by the deadline, with the fourth asking that the judge give him until Oct. 3 to file "sensitive" evidence under seal or only for her viewing in chambers. Either way, the evidence would not become public.

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

So far, defense lawyers representing two witnesses interviewed by The Vindicator have rejected any wrongdoing by prosecutors or the FBI.

In a motion filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, prosecutors ask that Judge Wells deny all of Traficant's motions -- which seek a hearing where he would question Morford -- and prohibit the congressman from raising his inflammatory accusations at trial Feb. 4.

Prosecutors have dismissed the first two affidavits he filed as either hearsay or irrelevant. They note that the most recent affidavit filed Sept. 7, which they also dismiss as irrelevant, came from a convicted felon.

Prosecutors, once again, accuse Traficant of using delay tactics. Although not a lawyer, he will represent himself at trial on racketeering, bribery and tax evasion charges.

The government has countered Traficant's evidence with snippets of grand jury testimony that show how he got a deputy to lie in an affidavit to save him from a mob-bribe conviction in 1983, when he was Mahoning County sheriff. A letter he submitted from a former congressional staffer as proof of misconduct also was recanted with a portion of the man's grand jury testimony filed by the government.

Although Traficant contends making grand jury testimony public is illegal, prosecutors said Thursday in their motion that disclosure is permitted in trial preparation.

Press issues: The congressman also accused the government of feeding the press in unethical or illegal ways, but prosecutors countered Thursday by stating that the text of The Vindicator story he submitted was based on an in-court filing, not any out-of-court statements. The story, published Aug. 23, dealt with the few pages of the deputy's grand jury testimony filed by the government.

In asking that Traficant not be allowed more time or private filings, the government points out that he hasn't hesitated making his allegations public. Prosecutors said his "media exploits" are well-documented.

He engaged in a week of government-bashing as a talk-radio host and, while under investigation, sent out a stream of press releases attacking the FBI, IRS and federal prosecutors, the government said.

"Throughout this nonstop barrage, the undersigned attorneys remained silent and only responded through properly filed court pleadings when forced to respond to Congressman Traficant's motions," the government said.

The case is being prosecuted by Morford, Bernard A. Smith and Matthew B. Kall.

The congressman, in a Sept. 7 filing, said he found a November 1999 FBI application for electronic surveillance in prosecution evidence turned over to him, despite Morford's assertion that the government didn't request electronic surveillance. An agent wanted to record a meeting that included Traficant and Charles O'Nesti, his former top local aide, now deceased.

For the second time, the government explained that it did not seek court-ordered electronic surveillance. Such nonconsensual eavesdropping includes bugs and phone taps.

Agent's response: An FBI agent requesting to conduct surveillance or consensually record a conversation that November 1999 between Traficant and O'Nesti is irrelevant, the government responded Thursday. In a footnote, prosecutors said O'Nesti pleaded guilty March 30, 1998, to racketeering and perjury charges and agreed to cooperate with the government's organized crime and public corruption probes.

O'Nesti died Feb. 29, 2000, before sentencing.

In July, the government turned over to Traficant copies of video- and audiotapes in which he was recorded.

It hasn't been disclosed whether any of the tapes include conversations consensually recorded -- where one person knows the tape is on -- or are limited to his radio appearances, press conferences and speaking engagements.

The government also addressed Traficant's accusation that Morford took part in a secret hearing in federal court that involved the congressman's allegation that FBI Special Agent Tony Speranza raped one of his constituents. Morford, Traficant said, took part in the hearing to make his allegation look self-serving.

Sealed results: The woman, who has denied the allegation to The Vindicator, was subpoenaed to court a few months ago but results of the appearance have been sealed.

Speranza was not one of the agents on the Traficant case, won't be called as a witness at trial and, even if the secret hearing took place, it's irrelevant to the congressman's misconduct charge, the government said.

Whoever told Traficant such a hearing took place -- which the government neither confirms or denies -- violated a judge's sealing order, prosecutors said.

meade@vindy.com




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