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TRAFICANT ON TRIAL The end is near -- or is it?



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



The congressman said the lead prosecutor has a chance to get the 'big Kahuna.'

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

CLEVELAND -- U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. could end his defense today.

Then again, maybe not.

At the end of each court day, Traficant, of Poland, D-17th, tells U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells that he'll make phone calls to round up witnesses. He usually gives no names.

Each day, Judge Wells admonishes the congressman for running out of witnesses, which he did again Tuesday. The judge sent the jury home at 3:10 p.m.

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.

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.

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

O'Nesti conversation: Terlecky's testimony before the jury will 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.

Challenges prosecutor: Traficant said that if Craig S. Morford, lead prosecutor, 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, 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.

Johnson said he didn't think O'Nesti was making sense and wanted to get him home. 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. At the time, O'Nesti was awaiting sentencing in an unrelated racketeering case but died before being sentenced.

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.

Wrong witness: Traficant called Horace Chesney of Lisbon to testify Tuesday afternoon, then said he realized he'd called the wrong man. The congressman thought Chesney, who received his subpoena at 10 a.m. Tuesday, had done work at the horse farm.

Chesney said he'd given the congressman a price to build a deer stand but never did the work.

Judge Wells sent the jury out when Traficant asked Chesney several times what he'd told Chesney not to talk about. Specifically, the questions revolved around Chesney's concerns about government corruption.

The jury didn't hear from Chesney again.

meade@vindy.com




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