TRAFICANT ON TRIAL Judge halts testimony of subpoena server
Traficant must decide soon if he'll testify.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
CLEVELAND -- U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr.'s subpoena server -- who says an FBI agent staked out his Boardman home -- didn't get a chance to tell his story this morning.
Michael Antonoff, a licensed private investigator, was stopped from describing what he says happened March 21. Antonoff had been on the witness stand in the congressman's bribery trial only about three minutes when Traficant asked him if he had any concerns for his welfare.
U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells told Traficant that the testimony Antonoff wants to give would be dealt with after she reviewed it during a break. She would determine if a jury would hear the evidence.
The government has previously opposed Antonoff's testimony based on an affidavit he submitted to the court.
The affidavit: In his affidavit, Antonoff said he followed a small silver car that had been parked in front of his house. The man inside the car had been taking photographs, he added.
Antonoff said he stopped and confronted the driver, who flashed what "appeared to be" an FBI badge.
Antonoff, although a trained private investigator, did not get the make or model of the car or its license plate number, according to his affidavit.
He said in his affidavit that the man in the car told him to back off, and pulled away.
The government says Antonoff's affidavit contains nothing definitive and no proof that the man actually was an FBI agent.
Traficant to testify? Meanwhile, time is running out for Traficant to decide if his defense should include his own testimony.
He said he plans to wrap up this week, the ninth week of his trial.
If he does take the stand, Traficant, as his own lawyer, would have to ask himself a question, then wait to see if there is an objection before answering. The answer has to be responsive to the question, not a speech or argument, Judge Wells told him.
Should he take the stand, the 60-year-old congressman, of Poland, D-17th, would subject himself to cross-examination by Craig S. Morford, lead prosecutor.
The government would then be able to use the remainder of the 37 boxes of evidence it turned over to him in July 2001.
Not used when the prosecution presented its case with 55 witnesses were 20 video and 453 audio cassettes of the congressman. The tapes represent mostly his press conferences, radio and TV appearances.
Charges against him: Traficant faces 10 counts, including bribery, obstruction of justice and tax evasion. He is accused of taking kickbacks, compelling staffers to do work at his horse farm in Greenford, accepting bribes and gifts, and using his influential position instead of paying contractors for work at the farm.
Traficant was asked Friday by Judge Wells to give the witness line-up for today. The discussion, though, turned to other matters and he didn't advise the court what to expect today.
Two congressional staffers remain on the witness list -- Josephine Hulett of Youngstown and Danette R. Palmer, assigned to the Washington, D.C., office.
Traficant subpoenaed, but hasn't yet called as witnesses, James W. Price, a Weathersfield trustee; Joe Pignatelli of Struthers; and a records custodian for Honey Creek Contracting in Petersburg.
Traficant also said he wanted to recall a government witness, Anthony R. Bucci, a retired contractor now living in Florida who says he bribed the congressman. Bucci awaits sentencing in an unrelated case.
The congressman said he had an expert who would perform non-destructive forensic tests on a placemat fragment Bucci gave the government that contained a "to-do" list of work at the farm. No test has been introduced as evidence.
Co-defendant: There's still the matter of the testimony of Richard E. Detore of Virginia, a co-defendant who, through his lawyer, said he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Judge Wells has been asked to grant limited immunity to Detore, a move the government opposes.
Aside from Detore, Henry A. DiBlasio and Bernard J. Bucheit, both of whom retired to Florida, are under indictment in the Traficant case.
Three businessmen, J.J. Cafaro, James R. Sabatine and A. David Sugar, skipped indictment and negotiated plea agreements in the Traficant case. All testified for the government.
The judge excluded as evidence audiotapes of conversations the congressman had with Detore and DiBlasio. She has explained that statements made by someone not subject to cross-examination and not under oath can only be admitted when certain exceptions to the hearsay rule have been met.
Welder: Traficant told the court a week ago to expect a 600-pound aluminum welder. One witness testified that it was a gift to Traficant, another witness said the machine has been in his custody and has never been used.
In Traficant's opening statement to the jury on Feb. 13, he said a witness who would testify that the minute he walked out of federal court in 1983, he was under investigation by the IRS and FBI. Traficant, then Mahoning County sheriff, represented himself and won acquittal on bribery charges.
No witness has yet to testify to the congressman's vendetta theory.
So far, Traficant has called his farmhand, 12 friends and five congressional staffers to testify on his behalf.
Judge Wells must decide if hearsay testimony given by another witness, Russell J. Saadey Jr., without the jury present, will be admissible. Saadey testified that Sabatine, his brother-in-law, said he didn't give a $2,400 bribe to Traficant. He called it a campaign contribution, but felt he had to cooperate with the government or lose everything he owned.