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TRAFICANT CASE Where will rep get $96,000 for forfeiture?



Published: Sat, April 13, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The congressman said he would appeal the conviction because he thinks the judge mishandled the case.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

CLEVELAND -- Unless he has $96,000 stashed somewhere, U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. has to find a way to pay his government forfeiture.

The jury that found Traficant, of Poland, D-17th, guilty of racketeering, bribery, obstruction of justice and tax evasion decided that his ill-gotten gains total $96,000.

The forfeiture is cash. No particular item or piece of property was specified.

The government had asked that the 60-year-old congressman forfeit $139,000. The amount included work done at his 76-acre horse farm in Greenford, an addition to the farmhouse, repairs on his boat near Washington, D.C., gifts, cash bribes and kickbacks from a staffer.

When Traficant is sentenced June 27, U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells will impose the restitution and decide on his fine, said William J. Edwards, first assistant U.S. attorney in Cleveland.

Free on bond: Traficant remains free on a $50,000 unsecured bond. He likely faces four to six years in prison based on the federal sentencing guidelines and a fine of up to $2 million.

Edwards said a decision has not yet been made on whether to ask that Traficant be remanded into custody the day he is sentenced.

Traficant said he plans to appeal his conviction. "I will appeal the verdict because the judge very clearly mishandled this case and was prejudiced toward the government's case from day one," he said.

The judge would decide if he remains out of prison pending appeal. If the judge agreed to let the congressman remain free, she would have to conclude that the appeal was not to delay his incarceration and that the appeal would likely result in a reversal, Edwards said.

When she orders payment of the $96,000 restitution, Judge Wells may set a timetable -- such as three years -- to pay, Edwards said.

She may, however, order that Traficant pay it immediately, Edwards said. If Traficant says he doesn't have the money, the case would be turned over to the U.S. attorney's office collection department.

Next step: "We'd look for assets," Edwards said. Nonpayment could become a violation of the congressman's supervised release, he said.

As a member of Congress, Traficant is paid about $150,000 each year.

Edwards couldn't recall the last cash forfeiture in this type of case. Cash forfeiture is easy in such cases as when $50,000 is found in a car involved in a drug deal -- the cash is seized and forfeited, he said.

Traficant's horse farm on state Route 165 is in his daughter Elizabeth's name. Likewise, his residence on Main Street in Poland is not in his name.

Because the properties are not titled to Traficant, they could not be taken and sold to pay the forfeiture, Edwards said.

"I doubt he has many assets in his name," Edwards said.

Valuable horses: Testimony indicated that the congressman's live assets are his regal saddlebred horses.

The government, through its witnesses, described a congressman with a passion for an expensive hobby -- the horses -- and an unwillingness to pay out of his own pocket for the sprawling farm's renovations.

"I have no idea what he plans to do, maybe a disbursal sale," said Sandra J. Ferrante, Traficant's longtime friend and former horse trainer. "He'll have the horses' best interest at heart, I'm sure of that. He may sell everything."

Ferrante lived at the farm for 17 years, leaving in early 2000.

At that time, the stables held nearly 30 horses. She has no idea how many are still there, saying some of the mares died from colic after she left.

The value of saddlebred horses, she said, is difficult to gauge. The range could be $100 to $100,000. As with show dogs, it depends on how the horses are rated and graded.

Traficant's cost of feeding the horses has been relatively low because he makes his own hay and has alternated his crops from corn and oats, Ferrante said. The corn or oats are stored at mills then reclaimed as needed, she said.

Role in case: Ferrante, who testified as a defense witness at the congressman's trial, said she spoke to him after Thursday's verdict and expressed how badly she felt. "He said he appreciated that."

Ferrante testified March 25 that she felt used by the FBI, who put her in protective custody after discovering a plot to kill her by a farmhand. FBI agents had played an audiotape for her in which Clarence T. Broad unknowingly told an undercover agent of his plans to have her killed.

She said she felt used because she didn't understand why the episode wasn't part of Traficant's indictment and why she wasn't called by the prosecution to testify. She said she went to the farm to apologize to Traficant for giving press interviews when the murder plot surfaced.

Broad pleaded guilty to tampering with a grand jury witness and received a 27-month sentence in February 2001.

meade@vindy.com




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