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Judge to jury: Case nears end



Published: Wed, April 3, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The judge told the congressman that she can control the proceedings.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

CLEVELAND -- A federal judge released the jury in U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr.'s trial at 11:05 a.m. today and told its members to bring clothes for two or three days when they return Thursday.

Traficant ran out of witnesses this morning and received a stern rebuke from U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells. The judge told the congressman that she has warned him repeatedly that he has the responsibility to have enough witnesses each day. She said he is not the only person who has a stake in this trial.

Some jurors travel five hours each day, round trip, and have been doing so for more than nine weeks. She said they have put aside their families and businesses to serve justice.

The judge told Traficant she will not permit him to continue to show up without witnesses. She reminded him that she had to send the jury home early Tuesday.

The judge said, "These men and women will not be permitted to sit here idly while you dillydally and delay."

The judge asked the congressman if he intended to testify. He repeated his offer that he would take the stand if Craig S. Morford, lead prosecutor, would take the stand.

The judge asked, "Are you going to take the stand?"

Traficant said, "I'm not sure yet."

Whether he will testify remains uncertain.

Ernestine Thomas, who has been aiding Traficant throughout the trial, handed him a note. Traficant then asked the judge, "What right do you have to stop my trial?"

Judge Wells said she has the right to control the proceeding, and she has the right to ask if he has more witnesses.

With the jury present before they were released, Traficant shouted that the judge has eliminated 50 percent of his witnesses.

The judge told him she can only conclude he has nothing further to present in this case unless he wants to testify.

She also asked how much time he wants for his closing argument. The congressman said whatever is fair.

Terlecky's testimony: Earlier today, Michael S. Terlecky said today that the Justice Department notified him by mail that his presidential pardon had been denied the same day he received a subpoena to testify for Traficant.

Terlecky was convicted 12 years ago of taking mob bribes while a lieutenant at the Mahoning County Sheriff's Department. Traficant has said he wants to get Terlecky a presidential pardon.

Terlecky testified during a contentious exchange with Morford. The prosecutor asked Terlecky several questions about his conviction that included taking mob bribes from organized-crime boss Lenny Strollo to carry to the sheriff's department.

Terlecky said he was intimidated into pleading guilty, and if he was under oath during the plea, "so what."

The former sheriff's department lieutenant maintains his innocence and blamed his former attorney Stewart I. Mandel. Mandel had been a federal prosecutor more than 30 years ago.

Also indicted: Morford asked if Terlecky was aware that Mandel had also been prosecuted for his connection to Strollo despite the fact that Mandel had been with the U.S. attorney's office all those years ago. Mandel pleaded guilty to his part in the Strollo case. Strollo and 30 others were indicted in December 1997, and Strollo eventually became a government witness.

"If that's what you say," Terlecky answered.

During one point in Morford's questioning of Terlecky, Traficant said, "I object to these unreasonable jack-in-the-box objectionable objections from objectionable objectors."

Traficant, of Poland, D-17th, asked if Terlecky felt he had been "screwed" by a former federal prosecutor. Terlecky said he did.

Morford asked if Terlecky was grateful to Traficant, who wrote letters to both President Clinton and President Bush seeking a presidential pardon for the felon.

"He probably cost me my cause," Terlecky answered.

Terlecky explained that the date of his subpoena, March 20, was also the date of a letter he received from the Justice Department that denied his pardon. Terlecky said he expected it to happen if he testified on the congressman's behalf.

Under cross-examination by Morford, Terlecky said that if it were not for his health, he could serve as a police officer again, only he would have to do it without a gun. He said there's a statement in a letter to that effect at the Mahoning County Sheriff's Department.

Terlecky was indicted in April 1988, a month after he went on disability leave from the sheriff's department. He pleaded guilty in 1990 and received a one-year sentence. He has professed his innocence in recent years and asked Traficant for help.

O'Nesti conversation: Terlecky's testimony was supposed to be limited to a brief description of a conversation he says he had with Charles P. O'Nesti several months before O'Nesti, Traficant's longtime district director, died in February 2000.

Terlecky testified March 26 outside the presence of the jury that O'Nesti stated he did not kick back part of his salary to the congressman.

Terlecky's testimony, which Judge Wells decided the jury could hear, would be used to impeach the testimony of former congressional staffers Jackie Bobby and Grace Yavorsky Kavulic. The women recalled that, over the years, O'Nesti would grumble about having to kick back part of his salary to Traficant.

Terlecky testified today that O'Nesti said he would hear things about his giving kickbacks to Traficant. But O'Nesti explained that he would lend Traficant money and the congressman always paid it back.

Terlecky said O'Nesti told him he never gave Traficant a kickback.

He testified O'Nesti also told him, "Them son of a bitches won't let me back home."

The reference, although not explained, was likely to O'Nesti's situation of facing possible incarceration in a federal medical facility. O'Nesti, too, pleaded guilty to his part in the Strollo case but died in February 2000 before being sentenced.

The congressman, now in his ninth week of trial, faces racketeering, bribery and tax charges.

Today's witness lineup included Michael S. Terlecky of Canfield, who was supposed to be in court Tuesday; an unidentified records custodian for Redi-Mix, an out-of-business concrete company; and an unidentified "fellow who did work at the farm."

Work at Traficant's horse farm in Greenford by contractors and congressional staffers has taken center stage throughout the trial.

Traficant explained Terlecky's absence Tuesday to Judge Wells by saying he was ill. Actually, Terlecky was doing a radio show Tuesday afternoon.

Challenges prosecutor: Traficant said that if Morford takes the witness stand, the congressman will put himself on the stand and finish his defense.

Traficant said Tuesday it would be Morford's chance to get "the big Kahuna."

Outside court, Traficant told reporters:

"That can happen. If that man has nothing to hide -- I just want 15 minutes with him under oath and they can put me on the stand. ... I'll do some horse trading. Why wouldn't it happen? If he had a pair of b----, excuse my mouth, he would take the congressman's deal."

Traficant tried repeatedly last summer to have Morford removed from the case, citing prosecutorial misconduct.

Judge Wells, in a September 2001 order, said Traficant presented a "potpourri" of allegations but failed to meet even the minimal standard required to prove wrongdoing by Morford.

In the order, 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.

Sets conditions: On Tuesday, Traficant filed a six-page "motion to testify with conditions." The 29 conditions are allegations Traficant wants to ask Morford about.

The list contains accusations of government misconduct against prosecution witnesses, such as intimidation, subornation of perjury, violation of civil rights, obstruction of justice and extortion.

The congressman said he will open himself up to questions about his 1983 bribery trial, at which he won acquittal, and questions about his current 10-count indictment. The condition attached is that the judge allow seven audiotapes that reflect his conversations with others admitted as evidence.

The condition that hinges on the tapes is also an empty gesture because Judge Wells has ruled against such evidence if the person on the tape is available to testify. All the people listed on the tapes are available, even though three are Traficant's co-defendants and under indictment.

Morford said that ethics rules prevent him from testifying. The government's investigation, he pointed out, isn't on trial -- Traficant is.

Witnesses ruled out: Traficant's difficulty in getting enough witnesses to court, meanwhile, has caused him to try to recycle three defense witnesses -- Youngstown lawyer Mark S. Colucci and congressional staffers Robert Barlow and Linda Kovachik. Judge Wells denied the congressman's desire to recall them.

Traficant wanted Kovachik, for example, to testify Tuesday about a photograph of an aluminum welder she had enlarged. The government said it would agree to admit the photograph without testimony.

Traficant became enraged and shouted, "What the hell's going on!"

He left the courtroom for a moment, slamming the door behind him.

"Goodbye, congressman," Judge Wells responded.

Traficant returned, shouting that he wanted Kovachik to testify.

"If you don't let her testify, you go find the damn welder," he screamed at the judge. Judge Wells calmly told him to call his next witness.

Attorney takes stand: Traficant grumbled but called Percy Squire, a Columbus attorney and longtime friend.

Squire, a native of Youngstown, testified about his relationship with Traficant and gave the jury a glowing picture of the congressman and his efforts to name a federal courthouse in Youngstown after Nathaniel Jones, a black federal appellate court judge. Squire described himself as someone who has reciprocated the loyalty and fairness Traficant has shown.

Squire, who is black, said he has found Traficant to be accessible and responsible, especially with the black community.

Squire spoke about Traficant's efforts to help a black contractor, Greg Tyson, whom Squire once represented. Until Squire, Tyson had been the congressman's strongest and most articulate witness.

Tyson is named in Traficant's indictment as one of the contractors who did work at the horse farm in return for congressional favors. Traficant pressured a bank to lend Tyson nearly $1 million.

Tyson defaulted on the loan in eight months. He was not charged in the Traficant case and was not called to testify as a prosecution witness.

Squire gave conflicting reports of a Nov. 14, 1998, episode at Youngstown State University that has been testified to twice before in the trial.

J.J. Cafaro testified that he handed Traficant $13,000 cash and that they drove around YSU that day. Cafaro, a vice president with his family's mall development empire, said he drove a green Cadillac.

Cafaro has pleaded guilty to giving Traficant $40,000 in cash and boat repairs in return for congressional favors.

Bryan Kidwell, a welder from Vienna, supplied Traficant with an alibi. Kidwell testified March 25 that Traficant came out of the building at YSU with a short, gray-haired man -- not with Cafaro. Traficant, Kidwell said, got into his pickup truck and they went to the congressman's office in Boardman to pick up parts of a tree stand they were building for deer hunting.

Squire, though, testified that he walked out of the YSU building with Traficant. Squire said he then departed.

The congressman asked if he left with Cafaro.

"To my knowledge you did not," Squire said. The attorney added that he did not see Traficant get into a green Cadillac but into a truck.

Later, under cross-examination by Morford, Squire said: "My testimony is I didn't see him leave at all." Squire recalled, again, that the vehicle Traficant got into wasn't a Cadillac.

Squire acknowledged that he had read press reports of the trial before coming to court, including Cafaro's and Kidwell's testimony.

"You can't say [Traficant] didn't duck out for two minutes with Mr. Cafaro?" Morford asked. Squire said, "No," but added he didn't see the congressman leave with Cafaro.

Dem official testifies: Dennis C. Johnson, a congressional staffer, also testified about a conversation he had with O'Nesti several months before O'Nesti's death from cancer. Johnson said he was approached by O'Nesti at the Open Hearth Grill on Steel Street in Youngstown and pulled aside for a private talk.

"Jim did nothing wrong. They want me to say things that aren't true, and they're going to send me to the Army," Johnson testified, quoting what O'Nesti said. He described O'Nesti as very weak and frail with a voice almost like a whisper. "The Army" was ostensibly a reference to a government medical facility prison.

Under cross-examination, Morford questioned Johnson about passing himself off as a law enforcement officer when charged with DUI last December. Johnson, Columbiana County Democratic party chairman, went into a ditch on Leffingwell Road, and a Mahoning County deputy sheriff responded to the scene.

Johnson kept saying he was a deputy sheriff and flashed a badge and identification card at Deputy Jeff Saluga, reports show. Saluga, who inspected the ID and discovered it was a civil commission, confiscated the ID and badge.

Johnson said in court that the ID came out when he retrieved his license. He said he was not trying to hold himself out as a law enforcement officer; that was the deputy's opinion.

Johnson acknowledged that he had been charged years ago with trying to pass himself off as a cop and eventually pleaded no contest.

meade@vindy.com




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