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TRAFICANT CASE Morford: Rep had odd mix of friends



Published: Sun, April 21, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Along the way, the congressman acquired some interesting friends, many who are felons.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Tell me who you're running with, and I'll know what you're up to.

That variation on "birds of a feather flock together" was expressed by Craig S. Morford, lead prosecutor in the case against U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., now a felon. Morford used the line in his closing argument and asked the jury to think about the men with whom the congressman chose to run.

Testimony in the racketeering trial revealed how Traficant, of Poland, D-17th, traded favors with shady contractors, mostly for improvements to his horse farm in Greenford.

Traficant hired congressional staffers -- at least three -- willing to keep their jobs by performing menial farm labor while collecting federal paychecks. The congressman also hired a close friend willing to negotiate a deal that allowed him to pay less than one-third of what he owed for a pole barn-riding arena.

Characters he's collected

A look back over the public life of Traficant reveals an interesting array of characters he collected along the way.

In January 1985, when Traficant entered Congress, he put Charles P. O'Nesti and Henry A. DiBlasio, both close friends, on the payroll.

O'Nesti's long-held reputation as a bag man for the mob lingered until his death in February 2000. O'Nesti admitted to the FBI that he kicked back part of his salary -- $1,000 a month -- for 131/2 years. He died before being sentenced for his part in mob boss Lenny Strollo's enterprise.

DiBlasio is under indictment, accused of lying about kicking back part of his salary to the congressman.

DiBlasio also had worked out a sweetheart deal to collect taxpayer-paid rent from the congressman for a district office simply by putting the building at 11 Overhill Road in Boardman in someone else's name, testimony showed.

The government said that, at retirement, DiBlasio passed on the kickback and rental scheme to R. Allen Sinclair, a personal injury lawyer who testified he had no qualifications to be on staff as administrative counsel.

Sinclair, who had been DiBlasio's law partner, bought the building at 11 Overhill and put it in his wife's name.

Best example

Traficant's circle of friends was best exemplified by his relationship with convicted felon Anthony R. Bucci, who testified for the government at the congressman's trial.

Bucci's dirty dealings with paving contracts has him lined up for a third trip to prison. To shave off a little prison time, Bucci decided to give up Traficant -- who pressured the Ohio Department of Transportation and federal agencies whenever Bucci got into trouble.

"My question to you is not was Tony Bucci a bad guy. We brought that out in his direct examination," Morford told the jury. "He was a really bad guy. The question is: Why is a U.S. congressman embracing this bad guy? And why does he continue to embrace him after he knows he's a convicted felon?"

Morford said Traficant threatened to call the head of ODOT and the governor and the governor's chief of staff to get an ODOT inspector fired for trying to enforce the laws against Bucci.

"You know, there's an old saying: Tell me who you're running with, and I'll know what you're up to," Morford said. "He's the one that chose to run with these people, these felons, these crooks, as he describes them."

Another defense witness, Michael S. Terlecky of Canfield, was convicted 12 years ago of taking Strollo's mob bribes when a lieutenant at the Mahoning County Sheriff's Department. Traficant and Terlecky are friends, and the congressman says he wants to get Terlecky a presidential pardon.

The congressman tried, unsuccessfully, to get the testimony of another associate, James A. Kerchum, heard by the jury. Kerchum reportedly had information to bolster Traficant's FBI vendetta theory.

Kerchum, now of Warren, claims he was recruited as an undercover FBI operative and given the code name "Cheez one."

In April 1999, police found illegal weapons and bomb-making materials at Kerchum's home in Girard. A county grand jury declined to indict him but he eventually pleaded guilty to a federal gun charge.

Traficant hired Clarence T. Broad, a Florida man with a hefty criminal history, to live and work at the farm. Broad is now in prison.

Broad discussed a murder-for-hire plan with an undercover FBI agent to "do away" with Sandra J. Ferrante, the congressman's longtime horse trainer. Broad was convicted of attempting to tamper with Ferrante, a grand jury witness.

meade@vindy.com




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