The judge told the congressman he was wasting everyone's time.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
CLEVELAND -- The jury in U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr.'s trial sat in a back room for more than two hours today as two witnesses testified about the investigation that led to the lawmaker's indictment.
Traficant called Fred Hudach and James Kerchum, but the judge summarily dismissed their testimony.
Without the jury present, Kerchum, of Warren, testified that he had been an FBI agent -- an undercover operative. He said he was given a field commission to form a corruption task force and, given the deep-cover code name "Cheeze One."
He said the FBI agent who recruited him asked that he not tell anyone. Kerchum said he was given special assignments for the FBI and had wiretaps on his phones to record all calls.
Questioning: The congressman asked Kerchum if the FBI had ever wanted him to investigate Traficant. Kerchum said yes, in June 1998 he was "asked to do a covert investigation of you, Congressman James Traficant."
Kerchum said he found "no evidence of no wrongdoing whatsoever with the congressman."
Kerchum said he called a department of justice supervisor when the FBI pay he had been receiving stopped coming. He said the supervisor told him to report on what the FBI in Youngstown was doing, because they were notorious for stealing money from sources.
Kerchum acknowledged that he was convicted for having firearms in his home and given house arrest in mid-1999.
Prosecutor's request: Craig S. Morford, lead prosecutor, at the conclusion of Kerchum's testimony, asked that it be excluded -- calling it completely irrelevant and having nothing to do with the case.
Judge Lesley Brooks Wells granted the motion, saying it was not part of what this case is about.
Traficant then called Hudach, of Hubbard, to the stand, again without the jury present. Hudach described himself as a lead congressional investigator who reported to Traficant -- who then reported to Donald Rumsfeld "when it became a national security issue." Rumsfeld is secretary of defense.
Hudach said he investigated when Kerchum reported being asked by an FBI agent to murder a Girard policeman. Hudach said he and Traficant met with the police officer and also asked for federal oversight.
Hudach said the FBI was more concerned about investigating Traficant than Kerchum's concerns about being asked to kill a police officer.
As with Kerchum's testimony, Judge Wells tossed out Hudach's. Traficant said, "I expected that." The judge shot back, "Then you wasted everyone's time."
Morford said such testimony has already been ruled out because it follows Traficant's vendetta theory. The congressman maintains that the government has pursued him since he won acquittal in 1983.
Denied request: Judge Wells had earlier denied a request today by Traficant to call as a witness the federal judge who had presided over his bribery trial in 1983. Traficant said he wanted Judge Ann Aldrich to discuss exhibits from his 1983 trial.
A lawyer representing the judge said he reviewed the court records about certain exhibits from the trial, specifically a request by Traficant to clarify a matter about $10,000 that the government was supposed to photocopy back then.
The lawyer said he retrieved a record of the exhibits but found no reference to any money. Judge Aldrich, the lawyer said, has nothing to offer for this trial that couldn't be obtained through a subpoena to the clerk's office for records.
Judge Wells agreed -- despite a heated argument by Traficant -- to quash the subpoena for Judge Aldrich.
Traficant, when Mahoning County sheriff, won acquittal on bribery and tax charges representing himself.
Can recall witnesses: In a small victory today, Judge Wells issued an order that allows Traficant to recall two witnesses whose testimony can rebut allegations that Charles P. O'Nesti kicked back part of his congressional salary to Traficant.
Michael S. Terlecky, a convicted felon, and Dennis C. Johnson, a congressional staffer, both say they had conversations with O'Nesti several months before his death in February 2000. Last month, Terlecky and Johnson testified without the jury present about the conversations they had with O'Nesti, who they said denied kicking back part of his pay to Traficant.
Traficant said today that he would have Johnson and Terlecky here today.
Filed motion: Traficant filed a motion today saying that he would testify on his own behalf if Judge Wells allows him to put Morford on the stand, and question him for 30 minutes about prosecutorial misconduct. Judge Wells said she would allow the government a chance to respond to his motion in writing.
Traficant shouted at Judge Wells that if she didn't allow him to put his witnesses in front of the jury, she was placing him at risk.