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Residents' reactions run the gamut



Published: Fri, April 12, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Love him or hate him.

As might have been expected, few Valley residents are holding the middle ground in reacting to Thursday's all-count convictions in James A. Traficant Jr.'s federal racketeering trial.

"I'm really surprised. Usually people with a lot of money don't get it. I can't believe it," said Robert Moore, a 20-year-old Youngstown resident who works at a Campbell pizza shop. Moore said he was dismayed to learn Traficant had been found guilty on all 10 charges brought against him.

Missed the news: He was so tired of hearing about the trial, Moore didn't even turn on the television or radio Thursday afternoon.

Two hours after the verdict had been announced, Moore still hadn't heard the news.

"Nobody said anything," he said, shaking his head in disbelief.

"I'm not disappointed at all," he said. "I just can't believe they found him guilty -- it seems like people with money get off."

With the nice weather, Darlene Madison of Youngstown hadn't heard the news, either. She was walking in a Campbell park Thursday afternoon.

"I didn't think he'd be found guilty on all 10 charges," she said. "It's too bad. He's done a lot of good things.

"He's messed up things, too," she was quick to add. "I think it's sad. The black community feels he's done a lot for them."

Whenever companies downsize or lay off workers, minorities are always affected, explained Madison, who is black. "He'd always fight to get the jobs back."

If Traficant hadn't been convicted, Madison said she'd consider voting for him again.

"I was praying for him to get off. I was hoping he wasn't guilty," said Ernestine Moore of Youngstown. "I would have found him not guilty. I don't think he got a fair trial."

"I think the trial was fair. I think the judge was fair to him," interjected Chymika Moore, also a Youngstown resident.

Both women were playing with their children at a Campbell playground Thursday afternoon.

"I didn't believe he was guilty on all 10 charges," Chymika Moore clarified, "but I probably would have found him guilty on something."

She followed the trial every day and thought Traficant's defense was "just confusing. I think he should have had a lawyer of his own." If he had, Chymika Moore said, "I don't think he'd be found guilty on all 10."

Did he do anything worse than any other politician?

"Swearing all the time," she said. "He could have held back on a lot of that."

Expected it: Marge Ford, a Campbell resident who was also in the park, said she expected the guilty verdicts.

"It looked like it was inevitable," Ford said, "from the reaction of the judge and the errors Traficant made as the result of not hiring an attorney. I think that really hurt him."

The prosecutors, Ford reasoned, did a much better job of dealing with what she called "hearsay" evidence. "It was, 'he said, she said,' on both sides."

Had Traficant been tried in the Mahoning Valley, Ford said the outcome might have been much different. "A lot of people in this area wouldn't have considered the evidence because they have emotional connections to Traficant -- maybe he did something for them."

Although Ford was expecting the guilty verdict, she is not happy knowing that someone who had been entrusted with the public's well-being committed such crimes.

Dawn Everitt of Austintown said Traficant may have done things that were wrong, but he didn't do anything worse than any other politician.

Everitt was surprised that the congressman was found guilty on all 10 charges, but believes he didn't have much of a chance. "The FBI did go after him," she said matter-of-factly.

John Smiley of Austintown was surprised by the 10 guilty verdicts, too. But he thinks it's good for the Valley.

"I think it's about time [Traficant was convicted]. He's out-served his usefulness. I'm glad it's over," Smiley said. "We need a more professional politician who can concentrate on what's good for the Valley."

Traficant, Smiley said, made enemies of so many politicians he couldn't be effective in Congress.

"I'm just glad I'm not in his shoes," said Michael Dylewski of Canfield.

Views on self-representation: Traficant is an intelligent man, Dylewski added. "I was surprised he chose to represent himself. I'm sure that hurt him. He's unprofessional in the courtroom because he's not a professional lawyer."

Paul Chambers of Boardman agreed. He, too, believes Traficant would have fared better had he hired an attorney and done a better job of scrutinizing the jury.

At one time, Chambers was active in the Youngstown Rotary and first met Traficant years ago when he addressed the group. Since then, Chambers said his encounters with Traficant have been "all positive." Of course, he admitted, he has a biased opinion.

Traficant can still count on some support in Columbiana and Trumbull counties, too. Many spoken with after Thursday's verdict said that even though they believe he's guilty of at least some of the offenses, they'd still vote for him, if possible. Others saw things differently.

From Columbiana County: "I'm sure he's guilty; they had too much evidence," said Ray Dawson of Columbiana. But Traficant "has really fought for this area" and would still deserve his vote, Dawson added.

Laurie Bell of Salineville, said she has followed Traficant's career closely and remains a supporter.

Although Bell acknowledged Traficant is probably guilty in connection with having employees work on his farm, she said the 10-count indictment shows the federal government is harassing him.

"They needed more evidence," Bell said. "I don't think it was fair."

Traficant erred in defending himself, she added. "He should have got himself a lawyer," she said.

But Traficant still has her vote. "He's done some good," Bell said.

"I don't like it," Gary McKenzie of Leetonia said of the verdict. "I don't think he got a fair trial."

McKenzie added that he would still vote for Traficant.

"They ought to just let him go," Tom Boyd of Lisbon said regarding what punishment Traficant might face.

Boyd said he'd still vote for Traficant. "I've heard nothing but good about him," he said.

But John Irey of Salem declared, "He's got to go to jail. There was a lot of strong evidence against him."

Irey said he wouldn't vote for Traficant; neither would Democrat Lecia Reed of Louisville.

"I thought he was guilty from the get-go," she said.

"I'm afraid they'll be too lax on him" when it comes to punishment, said Lecia's son, John Reed of Salem, adding, "They need to give him what he deserves."

From Trumbull County: "It's good for the Valley," said Jim Klippel, 49, of Howland, in Trumbull County, who was told of the verdict as he was about to shop at Giant Eagle in Howland. Klippel said Traficant's illegal activities don't seem to be abnormal in the Mahoning Valley, and the conviction to all counts wouldn't come as a surprise to those who listen to an Akron talk radio show that he's been listening to.

Eating a snack outside the grocery store, Mike Madgar of Howland said he was surprised by the verdict.

The 42-year-old said Traficant has done so much for the district and has had the public's support.

"But everybody has to be responsible for their actions," Madgar said, noting he has mixed feelings about the number of years the congressman should spend in prison.

As for the congressman's immediate future, Madgar said Traficant should be allowed to resign, although he'll probably wait for his colleagues to expel him from Congress.

Amanda Gross of Howland said she was caught off-guard by the jury returning guilty verdicts on all 10 counts. She expected acquittal on some charges, she said.

"I feel bad he's going away," Gross, 22, said as she was getting her nails done at Nails-Pro in Howland. "He's always been a good guy," she said, noting that she has met the congressman.

About sentencing: Judge Lesley Brooks Wells should be lenient on Traficant when he stands before her for sentencing, Gross said, adding, "but I know she's going to throw the book at him."

Gross said she believes Traficant should resign his congressional seat. "It's always better to quit than get fired."

Also at Nails-Pro was customer Brooke Campbell, 20, of Warren, whose class at MTC Police Academy has been studying the case.

"I pretty much thought he was guilty. He's getting treated as fair as anybody else," she said.

Campbell said she believes Judge Wells should be harsh during sentencing. "I think he definitely abused his power. What he did was bring down the community."

"It's always sad when somebody breaks the law. But we don't want anybody in this government that breaks the law," said Atty. Pat Duricy of Howland.

Duricy, 38, was walking into Giant Eagle with his 6-year-old son, Brian. He is employed by Trumbull County Legal Services.

Duricy said he has no opinion on Traficant's sentencing, but dislikes it when somebody is sentenced to prison.

At Casey Jones convenient store in Hubbard Township, Kimberly Restaino of Brookfield was visibly upset with the verdict.

"I've always believed in Jim Traficant. I'm so upset about it," said Restaino, 29, who knows Traficant's nephew.

She believed the congressman would be found innocent of at least two counts, racketeering being one of them.

"He's definitely guilty this time," said Lonne Kolat, 43, of Brookfield, outside the convenient store. He suggested that Traficant may have gotten caught up with his power.

"I sort of liked the guy up until now," Kolat said.

Disappointment: Pete Snyder, 66, of Hubbard Township said he was disappointed in the verdict. "This [the offenses] is not enough to go to jail over."

Pumping gas at Casey Jones was Dave Rupert, 66, with his 7-year-old grandson, Ryan.

"This guy's guilty. They found him guilty," Rupert said.

Rupert admitted somewhat proudly that Traficant lost his support when he didn't vote to impeach former President Clinton. "That made up my mind right there."

The Masury resident said Traficant may as well resign, but added, "I doubt if he'll resign, knowing him."

Still, Rupert said, Judge Wells should show some leniency. "His life and career are over now. I'm not out to see him destroyed."

UContributors: Norman Leigh, Tim Yovich and Maraline Kubik, Vindicator staff writers.




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