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TRAFICANT ON TRIAL The verdict: No one can predict what the jury's decision will be



Published: Wed, April 10, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The congressman chose not to wait at the courthouse but is in the area.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

CLEVELAND -- Reading a jury is like trying to find a word that rhymes with orange.

It can't be done.

"You can't read anything into how long they're out," said Lewis R. Katz, law professor at Case Western Reserve University here. "They have to go through each count."

As of 6:10 p.m. Tuesday, the 10 women and two men deciding the guilt or innocence of U.S. Rep. James. A Traficant Jr. had deliberated 12 hours over Monday and Tuesday. They returned at 9 a.m. today and were still deliberating at noon.

"They could be split on some counts," Katz said. "I can't give you a pithy quote on this one."

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 the sentencing guidelines.

The 60-year-old 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 influential position to provide favors instead of paying contractors for work at the farm.

Anxious reporters: Any movement Tuesday near double doors at the back of U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells' elegant courtroom prompted questions by reporters. Signs on the doors proclaim "Do not enter. Jury deliberating."

One closed-circuit TV camera trained on the doors was eventually turned to face a wall to prevent the onslaught of reporters' questions that followed any stirring near the jury room. The jury had one question Tuesday that was handled by phone conference among the judge, prosecution and defendant. The question was not disclosed.

Reporters covering the trial are either stationed in an overflow room with two closed-circuit televisions or across Superior Avenue in one of eight satellite trucks. A veritable army of news photographers lines the sidewalk in front of Frank and Pauly's restaurant, an upscale eatery across from the courthouse.

Jurors ordered lunch brought in Tuesday and left for their hotel after putting in a nine-hour day.

Waiting nearby: Traficant left federal court after closing arguments Monday afternoon, choosing not to wait there for the jury to return its verdict. He is reportedly staying nearby.

The U.S. attorney's office has offices on Superior, about a five-minute walk from the courthouse. The prosecution team -- Craig S. Morford, Bernard A. Smith and Matthew B. Kall -- waited there to be notified of a verdict.

Judge Wells told both sides to be in court within 30 to 40 minutes once a verdict is reached. The jury has been sequestered since it began deliberating at 3 p.m. Monday.

Variety of views: Theories abound, meanwhile, when it comes to gauging a verdict based on the time it takes a jury to deliberate.

Take the July 1999 racketeering case against Phil Chance, Mahoning County sheriff at the time.

The jury -- 10 women and two men -- returned a guilty verdict in roughly 31/2 hours. When the jury announced it had a verdict, but before it was read, the buzz in the courthouse was that it's never good for the defense to get a quick verdict.

There also was buzz in the courthouse that a quick verdict was good for the defense.

The case, which involved racketeering, extortion and obstruction of justice, was prosecuted by Morford and Richard H. Blake. Among other crimes, Chance had accepted campaign money from Mafia boss Lenny Strollo, who turned government witness.

To show the other end of the spectrum, it took 31/2 days last October for a 10-woman, two-man jury to decide the guilt or innocence of Russell J. Saadey Jr. and James A. Vitullo, both of Austintown.

The corruption trial ended with Saadey convicted and Vitullo set free. Vitullo had taken the witness stand for 31/2 hours in his own defense.

Saadey will be sentenced April 19 by U.S. District Judge Kathleen M. O'Malley.

He had been called as a witness in Traficant's trial, but his testimony about a conversation he had with a prosecution witness was not allowed by Judge Wells. Saadey contended that his brother-in-law, contractor James R. Sabatine of Canfield, gave Traficant a $2,400 campaign contribution, not a bribe.

Sabatine testified that he paid the money to Traficant to get out of doing $10,000 worth of work at the farm in return for a congressional favor.

Contentious proceedings: The government called 55 witnesses. Traficant called 31, but the judge scratched three of them after concluding their testimony was irrelevant or hearsay.

Traficant, meanwhile, wrangled daily over evidence with Judge Wells and prosecutors since the trial began Feb. 5, mostly with jury out of earshot. As if sensing the jury was aware of the confrontations that caused long breaks, Traficant apologized in his closing argument.

"If I've offended you, I apologize. For taking too much of your time, I apologize, but you have a tough duty," Traficant told the panel.

The congressman, serving as his own lawyer, had zeroed in on the lack of fingerprints, audio and videotapes. He said the government had no physical evidence to prove his guilt.

Morford, in his closing argument, said Traficant talked about everything under the sun except the actual evidence and documents and testimony in the case.




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