facebooktwitterRSS
- Advertisement -
  • Most Commentedmost commented up
  • Most Emailedmost emailed up
  • Popularmost popular up
- Advertisement -
 

« News Home

TRAFICANT ON TRIAL In the hands of the jury



Published: Tue, April 9, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The jury began deliberating at 9 a.m. today after being sequestered at an undisclosed location overnight.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

CLEVELAND -- "If you believe I'm guilty, you come out and just say it. I'll accept it like a man."

U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. made that pledge to the jury minutes before the panel began deliberating his 10-count indictment.

The jury -- 10 women and two men -- resumed deliberations at 9 a.m. today, after being sequestered overnight. They got the case at 1:10 p.m. Monday, went to lunch, returned at 2:55, then left the federal courthouse at 6:10 p.m.

Traficant, of Poland, D-17th, faces four counts of conspiracy to commit bribery, two counts of tax evasion, and one each of accepting an illegal gratuity, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to defraud the United States and racketeering. If convicted, he likely faces four to six years in prison under sentencing guidelines.

The congressman is accused of cheating on his taxes, taking kickbacks, compelling staffers to do work at his 76-acre horse farm in Greenford, accepting bribes and gifts from businessmen and using his position as a congressman instead of paying contractors for work at the farm.

"They're just trying to save their asphalt," Traficant said Monday of the contractors and businessmen who testified against him.

Varied presentation: Traficant used a range of tactics in his 90-minute closing argument, including using a roll of toilet tissue as a prop. He attributed a quote to Mark Twain, swore, shouted, cajoled, reminisced, cracked jokes, became surly, used flattery and derision, switched to thoughtful and, finally, to apologetic.

"If I've offended you, I apologize. For taking too much of your time, I apologize, but you have a tough duty," Traficant said, his voice calm, almost weary. "If you believe I'm guilty, you come out and just say it. I'll accept it like a man -- but if you believe in your heart I'm not guilty -- I want you to look at that prosecutor right in the damn eye, because that's what makes us free. In this courtroom the people still govern; I wish I could say that about our government. Thank you for listening."

Crushed by reporters as he left court, Traficant had little to say about his performance in what was certainly the most important speech of his life.

"I'm not an attorney. I can't rate how I did. Everybody has a style -- I'm just the son of a truck driver -- and quite frankly, I'm tired of the bull---- ...," he said. "It's not my job to prove I'm innocent. The prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that I'm guilty, and you have taken that position from Day One, and quite frankly, I'm tired and I'm sick and tired of having cameras in my face."

The trial began Feb. 5. The congressman has most days traveled back and forth from Poland.

During his closing argument, Traficant paced in front of the jury box and attacked the government's case. He referred to himself as "the sheriff," telling the jury not to trust the evidence.

Traficant was Mahoning County sheriff from 1981 to 1984, then entered Congress in 1985. He won acquittal of bribery charges in 1983 but lost an offshoot civil tax case in 1986 when a judge concluded he failed to claim as taxable income about $160,000 in mob bribes.

Craig S. Morford, lead prosecutor in this case, was one of two IRS attorneys who prosecuted Traficant's tax case.

Venting feelings: The 60-year-old congressman, alone throughout the trial as his own lawyer, zeroed in on the lack of fingerprints, audio and videotapes. He spoke bluntly about his archenemies, the FBI and IRS.

"I hate the IRS. I'd like to break their damn necks," Traficant said. He said he'd like to abolish the IRS and "tell them to get a real job."

U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells stopped him, saying, "These folks have to deal with the evidence."

The congressman attributed the following to Mark Twain: "There are lies, more lies and then there's statistics and paperwork, and I don't know which is worse."

After telling Judge Wells not to take offense, he quoted Thomas Jefferson as saying: "Beware of the appointment of federal judges for lifetime terms because they could take the Constitution and mold it like clay in their hands. God bless juries."

Traficant called Jefferson "our second president." Actually, Jefferson was the country's third president.

Traficant said that his being a member of Congress called for a different element of evidence, including full-blown surveillance and corroboration.

He said he thinks the FBI didn't attempt to record him because he did nothing wrong.

Aside from 55 witnesses, the government presented as evidence $24,500 in cash from kickbacks, deposit slips, handwritten notes, bank records, letters, photos, false invoices, checks, receipts for boats repairs, receipts for a welder and generator and more. Some of the photos show a two-story addition to Traficant's farmhouse in Greenford, paid for by one of his co-conspirators, the government said.

Issue of fingerprints: The congressman said that out of 912 items tested by the FBI, not one contained his fingerprints. He said he has a unique scar on his right index finger from playing marbles as a child.

"Now I want to talk about something I'm familiar with. Fingerprints are routinely found on cash from bank robberies, betting parlors and illegal activities," Traficant said. "Fingerprints can even be lifted from dead bodies. The larger the volume of documents, the more likely a print can be identified."

Morford, in his rebuttal, reminded the jury of FBI Special Agent Joe Bushner's testimony.

"What did he tell you? That the documents that matter, the money, the burned envelopes, there were no fingerprints at all," Morford said. "It's very difficult to get fingerprints from paper documents because paper tends to absorb the very things that leave fingerprints. Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don't."

Morford stood, pulled his suit jacket open and slowly reached inside with his right hand to remove a bank envelope from a pocket. He used his fingers to gently grip the sides -- not touching it with his fingertips.

"This is full of cash, and I've pulled that out and I hand it to somebody because I'm a former sheriff and I don't want my fingerprints on it," he said, holding the envelope toward the jury. "Would there be a fingerprint on it? No. His fingerprints are not on this. They're not on anything. So what? Does that mean he's innocent?"

Morford called the fingerprint issue "more cotton candy," a reference he'd used when talking about a defense witness whose theory was exposed as meaningless. The prosecutor described cotton candy as a big mound of fluff that looks like something but when you take a bite it disappears because there's nothing there.

The jurors appeared emotionless during Morford's one-hour closing argument, for the most part listening carefully as the prosecutor detailed the charges against Traficant.

Even when Morford had a humorous comment to make or one that would naturally elicit a response, the jury sat silent.

Though not many jurors took notes during Morford's closing, even fewer did so during Traficant's closing. Again, the jurors appeared to be listening closely without showing any emotion during the first half of Traficant's 90-minute closing. They appeared to show some disinterest during the latter half.

Sequestered: The judge, meanwhile, ordered the jury sequestered separate from the remaining four alternates, with U.S. marshals providing security. A female alternate juror replaced a regular juror, Scott Grodi, 21, of Fairview Park, who was excused Monday after telling the judge of a death in his family.

While sequestered, the jurors and alternates will receive breakfast, lunch and dinner and, if they desire, one alcoholic beverage at dinner. Suitable recreation will be provided, and laundry service will be at government expense.

The marshals will ensure that the jurors have no access to news of the trial or unauthorized outside contact with anyone, and TV viewing will be monitored for news bulletins. The marshals will monitor any written communication and phone calls the jurors may receive and inspect any packages sent to the jurors.

If a juror has a doctor's appointment, a marshal will tag along. Arrangements will be made for religious services and haircuts or beauty-shop trips.

meade@vindy.com




Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.


News
Opinion
Entertainment
Sports
Marketplace
Classifieds
Records
Discussions
Community
Help
Forms
Neighbors

HomeTerms of UsePrivacy StatementAdvertiseStaff DirectoryHelp
© 2014 Vindy.com. All rights reserved. A service of The Vindicator.
107 Vindicator Square. Youngstown, OH 44503

Phone Main: 330.747.1471 • Interactive Advertising: 330.740.2955 • Classified Advertising: 330.746.6565
Sponsored Links: Vindy Wheels | Vindy Jobs | Vindy Homes | Pittsburgh International Airport