The congressman had no evidence that the welder was taken by the FBI, but contended that is what happened.
VINDICATOR STAFF REPORT
CANFIELD -- U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. alleges that FBI agents or their representatives took a 600-pound welder that he had hoped to enter into evidence at his federal corruption trial.
The congressman made the allegation at a hastily called press conference at the Grandview Restaurant in Canfield on Saturday morning.
"I want an investigation. I believe it was the FBI who took the welder. I've had enough of this b-------," he said angrily.
Traficant, of Poland, D-17th, alleges that the only one who stands to gain by "keeping physical evidence from the jury" is the FBI.
"I don't think the Cafaros had anything to do with this," he said.
Connection to case: Previous testimony in Traficant's nine-week trial, which will move to closing arguments Monday, has shown that the congressman received a welder bought by USAerospace Group, a now-defunct company owned by J.J. Cafaro.
Albert Lange Jr., a former USAG official, testified that he delivered a welder to Traficant. Purportedly, the welder was going to be used to repair an aluminum horse trailer and was given to Traficant by Cafaro in exchange for congressional favors.
The machine ended up at the Youngstown-Kingsville Road home of Brian K. Kidwell.
Kidwell, of Vienna, is a welder who said that he was going to use the machine to manufacture trailers for USAerospace and that it had never been used.
Traficant planned to dispute allegations that he'd been given the welder to repair his horse trailer by entering it into evidence and proving to the jury that it was brand new. Judge Lesley Brooks Wells asked the congressman daily about the status of the welder, but the equipment was never delivered to the Cleveland courtroom.
Kidwell statement: At the press conference, Traficant distributed a notarized statement from Kidwell explaining why the machine never arrived.
Reading from the statement, Traficant said three men in a blue pickup truck visited Kidwell at his home the afternoon of March 22.
The congressman continued to read the statement, which he said Kidwell gave him Saturday morning, in its entirety.
"There were three, big white men in the truck," the statement read. "They backed the truck up to the building where the USAG welder was stored and being prepared to be shipped to Cleveland as evidence in the Traficant trial."
The statement went on to explain that the men hand-loaded the welder onto the bed of their truck, along with related equipment and an acetylene tank belonging to Kidwell.
They then asked Kidwell if a truck that had just left his property belonged to Kidwell's son, and Kidwell said yes, the statement said.
Then, Kidwell told the men that the welder was to be delivered to Cleveland.
"They said, 'This welder is not going to Cleveland,'" Kidwell's statement reads. "They then said, 'If you are asked, you did not see this welder going out of here.'"
Kidwell's statement continues: "I became very nervous and afraid when I realized that these men were not sent by Congressman Traficant for the purpose of having the welder delivered to the Cleveland court."
Kidwell wrote that he became increasingly concerned for his three children because the men knew his son had just left, and he surmised they knew about his family.
Fears: "When I testified in Cleveland at the Traficant trial Monday, March 25," Kidwell wrote, "I was afraid to mention to Congressman Traficant what had occurred and led the congressman to believe that the welder would be delivered to Cleveland for inspection."
Kidwell said he misled the congressman for fear of his family's safety. He decided to avoid talking to anyone until the trial was over, "since photographs had been taken of the machine extensively by Dominic Marchese, photographs that I had truthfully identified for the court on March 25, 2002," Kidwell wrote.
Kidwell said his attempts to avoid talking ended with an unexpected visit from Traficant and Marchese around 6 a.m. Saturday.
Marchese is a Johnston Township trustee who's been on Traficant's staff since April 2000.
"I then admitted what had occurred," Kidwell said in the statement, and asked the congressman for his protection. "It was never my intention to break any laws; my concerns were for my children. ..."
Kidwell said he never saw any identification from the three men and never asked about their connections. "I just followed their instructions to 'stay out of this,'" Kidwell said in the statement.
Traficant's view: After reading the statement to reporters, Traficant said the disappearance of the welder demonstrates that prosecutors failed to investigate. "Why didn't they locate the welder before they charged me?" he said.
When questioned by reporters about how these allegations could affect the outcome of his trial, Traficant stated it would have no impact. "This is not a ploy. I expect to win. I expect to kick their a--," he added.
The congressman then reiterated a list of assertions that he believes should refute allegations against him, including the lack of physical evidence such as FBI tapes and "a noticeable scar" on his finger that would make his fingerprints easy to identify.
A lack of his fingerprints on materials admitted into evidence, Traficant said, should raise questions as to whether he ever handled them, and a lack of tapes recorded by the FBI should raise questions as to whether such tapes, if they exist, would clear him of all charges.
The prosecution has countered those assertions throughout the trial by saying their evidence is the words of the witnesses, backed by a paper trail, additions done at Traficant's farmhouse and much more.
When asked if police reports alleging theft of the welder had been filed, Traficant and Atty. Mark Colucci, who also appeared at the press conference, said a report would be filed as soon as possible with both Vienna Township police and the Trumbull County Sheriff's Department.
As of Saturday evening, no reports had been filed.
Rape allegations: After about 45 minutes, Traficant abruptly ended the press conference when a reporter pressed him about his repeated allegations that an FBI agent raped one of Traficant's constituents.
The reporter told Traficant that she has spoken with the woman and that the woman said she had a consensual relationship with the agent.
Traficant responded by saying that the woman was under emotional distress and that the FBI agent took advantage of her mental state by pressing her for sex.
Again, the reporter told Traficant that the woman said she was not raped.
"Why are you continuing to jack me around?" Traficant shouted at the reporter. "Why don't you media just go out and kiss the a-- of the FBI?"
With that, Traficant gathered up his notes and walked out.
XCONTRIBUTORS: Maraline Kubik, Mike Braun and Patricia Meade of The Vindicator staff.