CLEVELAND Judge denies Traficant motions
The congressman failed to meet the minimal standard required, judge said.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
CLEVELAND -- A federal judge has concluded that evidence U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. submitted to prove prosecutorial sins is not only worthless but some of it is staged and self-serving.
In an order filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, Judge Lesley Brooks Wells denied four motions the congressman filed in an effort to remove Craig S. Morford, lead prosecutor. Traficant, the judge said, presented a mixture of allegations but failed to meet even the minimal standard required to prove wrongdoing by Morford.
The 17th District congressman faces a 10-count indictment that includes racketeering, bribery and tax evasion charges. He has no law degree but has opted to represent himself at trial Feb. 4.
Traficant has accused Morford of intimidating witnesses, obstructing justice, suborning perjury, violating ethics laws and the federal bribery and gratuity statute. The bribery reference is Traficant's contention that Morford paid witnesses for their testimony through promises of reduced sentences.
The congressman claimed his evidence -- a letter, three affidavits and a audiotaped conversation -- would prove the "Gestapo government" did whatever it took to frame him.
No merit found: The judge, who reviewed each piece of evidence Traficant submitted, said that none of them has merit. The letter doesn't mention Morford; one affidavit contains not just hearsay but double hearsay; and another affidavit doesn't mention Morford and is hearsay, she said.
The judge said the point is unclear in an affidavit signed by Pat Naples Jr., "but it is clear that it does not constitute support for the allegations of misconduct by ... Morford."
Naples owns a construction company and works as a part-time police officer in Lowellville. He is a former Mahoning County reserve deputy first commissioned in 1982, when Traficant was sheriff.
In referring to the taped conversation Traficant had with Richard Detore, former chief operating officer of U.S. Aerospace Group in Virgina, Judge Wells said the exchange appears to have been staged by the congressman.
"The conversation was extraordinarily mutually self-serving," Judge Wells said. "It was an opportunity for defendant Traficant and Mr. Detor[e] to explain how each was not only innocent of all wrongdoing, but honorable, as well."
There's no indication that Detore knew he was being recorded. Throughout the conversation, he 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.
Concealment alleged: Traficant, J.J. Cafaro, Albert Lange, USAG chief engineer, and Detore agreed to conceal Cafaro's purchase of the congressman's houseboat by making it appear as though Lange bought the boat, the government said. Prosecutors identified Lange and Detore only by title in the congressman's indictment. Cafaro has pleaded guilty to bribing Traficant and is expected to testify for the government.
"For defendant Traficant's benefit, the two discussed how potential prosecution witnesses, such as Mr. Cafaro, are liars," the judge said of the taped conversation. "Traficant also sang his own praises: 'I'm one of the few in America willing to stand up to our g-------- Gestapo government,'" the judge wrote, quoting the tape.
Detore received his share of compliments from Traficant, the judge noted, and she quoted the congressman saying: "They can't handle the fact that you are so upright and upstanding a man of integrity."
One cannot avoid being struck by the self-serving nature of the entire discussion, Judge Wells said. She said the conversation follows a cross-examination format, where Traficant prompts Detore with leading questions, puts words in his mouth and occasionally attempts to distort his answers.
"Traficant did exactly what he accuses the government of doing -- he puts words in Mr. Detor[e]'s mouth and he distorts, by restatement, Mr. Detor[e]'s responses," Judge Wells said. The tape simply does not meet any criteria for reliability, she said.
Traficant hurled "onerous allegations" without any factual support, the judge said.
Judge's decision: Judge Wells denied Traficant's request to question Morford at an evidentiary hearing; denied his request to sanction and remove Morford from the case; and denied the congressman's request to call Morford as a witness at trial. The issues are settled and cannot be reopened by Traficant, she said.
Judge Wells reserved for the time being her decisions on prosecution requests to sanction Traficant and to exclude from the trial argument and evidence concerning allegations of government misconduct.