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TRAFICANT ON TRIAL Bumbling is just an act, congressman says



Published: Tue, April 2, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Judge Wells warned the congressman to have witnesses ready.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

CLEVELAND -- U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. told the press that his "stumbling, bumbling" act allowed him to slip evidence to the jury that had been barred by the judge.

U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells had denied Traficant's request Monday to qualify as an expert Michael L. Robertson, a private investigator from North Canton. Traficant had wanted Robertson, a former Secret Service agent, to testify as to the methods used to investigate the congressman and what Robertson believed was lacking in the investigation.

Traficant, of Poland, D-17th, says he has been the victim of a vendetta and maintains the government pressured and intimidated witnesses. He contends no secret recordings were made by the FBI because they would have cleared him.

Despite the judge's order, Traficant plowed ahead to pursue one of his defense theories -- that the government has no physical evidence to corroborate the charges against him. He faces 10 counts, including bribery, obstruction of justice and tax evasion.

Prosecutor's objections: Traficant's questions, many posed as statements to Robertson, brought quick objections from Craig S. Morford, lead prosecutor. Morford objected so many times that Traficant quipped: "I object to these objectionable objections."

After court Monday, the congressman explained his halting technique with Robertson to reporters:

"I wasn't struggling. I was fumbling and bumbling and stumbling for words to get in the things I need to get into the jury 'cuz I couldn't get them in any other way," Traficant said. "It's called a clever ploy."

Robertson acknowledged that he is a fan of Traficant's and agreed to charge the congressman $1 to review bank records, grand jury and trial testimony of Boardman attorney R. Allen Sinclair. The private investigator said he generally charges $75 to $150 per hour for his services.

Sinclair, who served 13 months as Traficant's administrative counsel, has testified that he kicked back $2,500 each of those months to the congressman.

"Is this a money trial?" Traficant asked Robertson.

"Yes," Robertson answered.

"Have you seen any money investigated other than charts?" the congressman asked.

Morford objected. Judge Wells sustained the objection.

Traficant asked why Robertson wanted to donate his time. Robertson said because the evidence appeared to be "testimony, not physical evidence." He said his source of information was press accounts of the trial.

"Did you find any physical evidence?" Traficant asked.

Morford objected. Judge Wells sustained the objection.

Traficant wondered what Robertson found inadequate about the investigation.

Morford objected. Judge Wells sustained the objection.

The judge said Traficant was "off on a side trip" with the witness, who was basing his testimony on news reports and an earnest desire to help.

Traficant asked if Robertson was satisfied with the investigation the government did.

Morford objected. Judge Wells sustained the objection.

Judge's warning: She warned Traficant that she had already ruled that his witness could not testify as an expert about an investigation he had no part in.

Undaunted, Traficant asked Robertson: "What graphic evidence did the government produce?"

Morford objected. Judge Wells sustained the objection.

"Don't you find the objections to be a pain in the assets?" Traficant said to Robertson. The private investigator asked the congressman to rephrase the question.

"Was this a properly corroborated investigation?" Traficant asked.

Morford objected. Judge Wells sustained the objection.

Traficant, again, asked Robertson why he took the case.

Robertson, again, answered that he took it when he realized there was no physical evidence.

"What did you see other than paper documents?" the congressman asked.

Morford objected. Judge Wells sustained the objection.

Robertson's "hypothesis" was that he found nine deposits of $2,500 each go into Sinclair's lawyer account. The private investigator suggested that could explain the exact amounts allegedly given back to Traficant in 1999.

Morford got Robertson to acknowledge that if each of the $2,500 deposits represented checks to Sinclair from clients or insurance settlements it would dismantle the hypothesis.

The prosecutor then produced 10 checks for $2,500 each that Sinclair was paid by clients and insurance companies in 1999 and asked "What does that do to your hypothesis?"

Robertson said it "resolved the hypothesis." He said he didn't have much time to investigate and didn't have the checks to review.

'Irrelevant': "What you testified to was irrelevant?" Morford asked.

Robertson said it was. As far as $26,600 in cash deposited into Traficant's account, Morford asked if the money could have come from kickbacks.

"For all I know," Robertson answered.

Robertson said he had an interest in the congressman -- had seen him on TV -- and was intrigued by what he saw and heard. Robertson said he and Traficant were brought together about five weeks ago by Youngstown attorney Mark S. Colucci, who helped subpoena Sinclair's bank records.

Colucci has aided Traficant from time to time with legal advice and testified last week. The prosecution chose not to cross-examine him.

Earlier Monday, Traficant called his subpoena server to the stand. His testimony about being followed by someone who flashed what appeared to be an FBI badge had been previously disallowed by Judge Wells -- the prosecution had objected that there was no way to determine if it was really an FBI agent. Morford told the judge that he didn't believe the testimony was unintentional.

Lack of witnesses: At the end of court Monday, Judge Wells asked who Traficant would have today as witnesses. He had no names but said he'd try to reach several people.

"Get a bunch of them down here," Judge Wells warned. She has chastised the congressman repeatedly for not having enough witnesses on hand to fill a day.

After court, the congressman would not comment when asked if he had subpoenaed U.S. District Judge Ann Aldrich. Judge Aldrich presided over Traficant's 1983 bribery trial, in which he won acquittal representing himself.

"I wouldn't want to speak about any subpoena I made on an officer of the court," he said. "It will speak for itself in due time."

What about the 600-pound aluminum welder the congressman has been promising as an exhibit for more than a week?

"It's welding," he answered.

He said he also hasn't done the forensic test he said he would do on a place-mat fragment that had a "to-do" list for his horse farm. He said he's still trying to call back the man who kept it in his wallet for years.

Length of trial: "You never know with me; hell, we could go another month," the congressman said. "I figure we'll be done by the middle of next week, no later."

He said he has enough witnesses, if Judge Wells doesn't keep throwing them out.

"She threw out everybody. She's gonna throw out everybody else," Traficant told reporters Monday. He was commenting on these orders Judge Wells issued:

UDenied Traficant's request to grant immunity to his co-defendant, Richard E. Detore, so that Detore could testify. In all but rare cases, the U.S. attorney's office grants immunity.

UDenied Traficant's request to have the government turn over the complete grand jury testimony of Sandra J. Ferrante, his former horse trainer. The government did not call her as a witness --Traficant did -- and therefore the government doesn't have to turn over the testimony.

UDenied Traficant's request to compel the government to produce IRS and FBI witnesses related to boat transactions. The boat transactions involve mall developer J.J. Cafaro, who has admitted paying for repairs to the congressman's boat in return for favors. It is up to Traficant, the judge said, to identify what witnesses he wants and subpoena them.

UDenied Traficant's motion to strike the testimony of J.J. Cafaro and Albert Lange Jr. The judge noted this is the second time she denied such a request.

UDenied Traficant's request to let Harry Manganaro, a Youngstown demolition contractor, testify to an out-of-court statement made by contractor A. David Sugar Sr. Although Traficant could have brought Manganaro back to testify without the jury present last week, the congressman failed to do so. Manganaro must testify without the jury present to let the judge decide if she will allow the hearsay evidence. Manganaro said Sugar felt threatened by FBI agents and cooperated. Sugar has said they were very nice.

UBarred the testimony of Russell J. Saadey Jr. of Austintown, who testified outside the presence of the jury that his brother-in-law, James R. Sabatine, did not bribe Traficant with $2,400. Saadey said Sabatine testified to the bribe to protect everything he owns. Traficant said he destroyed an audiotape of the conversation he had with Saadey that contained that same information and more. "It is not necessary to pass on the admissibility (let alone credibility) of Mr. Saadey's hearsay statement. ... The voluntary destruction of the taped conversation between defendant Traficant and Mr. Saadey, after notice to produce it, blocks any testimony from Mr. Saadey."

UDenied at this time the admission of a 1998 letter from Charles P. O'Nesti's lawyer stating that O'Nesti was not a member of the Pittsburgh La Cosa Nostra. The lawyer quoted a conversation he had with Morford.

The government has always made the distinction that O'Nesti, now deceased, was an associate of organized crime figures, not a "made" member of the LCN. Testimony has shown that O'Nesti kicked back part of his congressional salary to Traficant for 131/2 years.

The trial is in its ninth week. So far, the congressman has called 21 witnesses, one of whom, Saadey, did not testify with the jury present.

Traficant 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.

meade@vindy.com




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