A staffer who tried to bar a reporter from the office kept insisting 'it's private.'
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
CANFIELD -- Imprisoned James A. Traficant Jr.'s former secret office on U.S. Route 224 won't be secret much longer.
U.S. Rep. Robert Ney, House Administration Committee chairman, pledged that the office will soon be made public after inquiries were made Friday by The Vindicator.
Here's what led to the pledge:
On Friday morning, the clerk at the U.S. House of Representatives didn't list it on the ex-congressman's revamped Web site.
The clerk and House Administration Committee have assumed management of the 17th District offices and taken over the Web site. The site once featured a picture of Traficant holding a moving stick with the words "banging away in Washington" on it.
The House expelled Traficant on July 24, and five days ago he began serving an eight-year prison sentence. His prison number is 31213-060.
The Web site directed constituents to only three district offices:
U125 Market St. in Youngstown.
U 5555 Youngstown-Warren Road in Niles.
U 109 W. Third St. in East Liverpool.
The East Liverpool office has been closed since May.
The phone number listed on the Web site for the East Liverpool office has been disconnected. A recorded message gives callers the phone number of the district office in Youngstown, located in the federal courthouse downtown.
Private Canfield office
Missing from the new Web site is the secluded office in Canfield at 4590 Boardman-Canfield Road. Traficant had it since August 2000 and, when last checked, rent there was $1,750 per month.
Last August, The Vindicator reported that the Canfield office was not listed on Traficant's Web site, there was no sign out front, and its phone number was not listed in the phone book or city directory. Nothing had changed since then.
The free-standing sign that faces Route 224 lists the main occupant as Mahoning Valley Chiropractic Rehabilitative Center. Several lawyers are listed together and there's a separate listing for Atty. Robert A. Ciotola.
The congressional office can be found at the northeast, rear corner of the modern-looking complex. The glass-block windows offer total privacy.
A small alcove entry on the east side of the building toward the back leads to Ciotola's glass door. On the immediate right of Ciotola's door is an unmarked glass door that leads to a small vestibule and another door.
Until Traficant was expelled, there was a small sign above the second door that identified it as his office.
No sign was above the door Friday.
Reluctant to allow entry
Robert Barlow, a congressional staffer, attempted to bar entry to a reporter Friday morning. He unlocked and opened the outer glass door part way then positioned himself to block entry.
"This is a private office -- you can't come in," Barlow said several times, trying to shut the outer door.
The reporter asked if he understood that the office is paid for by taxpayers.
"I know, but you can't come in," he insisted, standing his ground in the doorway. "It's private."
Barlow eventually moved aside. He unlocked the inner door and allowed a reporter and photographer into the three-room office.
He said he didn't have a key to the locked room once used by Traficant and doesn't know who has the key. He didn't know if Traficant had access to rooms on the second floor.
The sign above the inner door was taken down after Traficant's expulsion, Barlow said, and it's unlikely a new one will go up because of the expense.
What Traficant wanted
Barlow said he didn't find it odd that a congressional office would have no sign out front and not be listed in the phone book or on the Web site. That's the way Traficant wanted it; it was his idea, the staffer said.
"It was his private office," Barlow said, explaining Traficant's motive. "The downtown office can direct people here; that's been the procedure all along."
Barlow said the outer door remains locked all day because he doesn't want people walking in who shouldn't.
"There's dangerous people around, you know," he said. "The other [district] offices have security; we don't."
The Canfield office is staffed full time by Barlow and Dennis Johnson. Staffers Lori Pesci and Rick Berger split their time between the Canfield and Youngstown offices.
Later Friday, Ney, of St. Clairsville, R-18th, was asked why the Canfield office hadn't been made public and why Barlow would attempt to bar entry and refer to it as a private office.
Ney made some inquiries then called The Vindicator back.
He said under House rules, a member can have an office and not list it.
"However, having said that, this was done by Mr. Traficant, OK, who's no longer a member," Ney said. "The 17th District office is going to put signage on Canfield and operate caseworkers out of it. It was Traficant's prerogative under House rules to have the office but not list signage."
Ney said the office also will be listed on the Web site, which could take a few days. The phone number also will be made available through information.
"All my offices are listed. The members do have the prerogative to not list the offices, and that's the way Traficant did it," Ney said.
The congressman said he knew of no member who has an unlisted office.
As far as Barlow's barring entry, Ney said: "Again, this is in transition, and I think you'll find it to be a different case with the new chief of staff who's only been on board for a matter of days."
Ney said John Culbertson, the new chief of staff, assured him the Canfield office will soon be public.