Official: Traficant could take oath of office in prison
The government will file liens next week to begin collecting nearly $250,000.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- If elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, James A. Traficant Jr. could take the oath of office in prison.
The House can authorize that the oath, normally given by the speaker, be given "remotely," said a House parliamentarian.
A judge, for example, could administer the oath at the Federal Correctional Institution at Allenwood in White Deer, Pa., where Traficant is incarcerated for the next eight years. He was expelled from the House on July 24 and sentenced July 30 on corruption and tax convictions.
Except for an emergency, he is not permitted to leave Allenwood.
The remote swearing-in procedure has been used before in the case of illness, for example, the parliamentarian said.
Unless removed from the Nov. 5 ballot based on residency, Traficant is running as an independent candidate against three challengers for the reconfigured 17th District seat. The Constitution states that a person elected to the House shall be an inhabitant of the state in which elected.
Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins is expected to render an opinion on the ballot issue by the end of the month. Ballots will be printed in early September.
As a felon, Traficant, 61, of Poland, is prohibited from voting in elections.
One attorney's research
Boardman attorney John B. Juhasz, who did some research on federal elections, said an initial review leads him to believe that Traficant could stay on the ballot. "I think his residence is Poland," Juhasz said.
Juhasz cautioned that he hadn't done exhaustive research but said that what he found indicates habitation is a place where a person intends to return to. Traficant's prison stay is temporary, Juhasz said.
Although House rules state that members shall cast their legislative votes in person on the House floor in Washington, D.C., there's no minimum number of votes required, the House parliamentarian said. In other words, Traficant would not be required to vote at all and his excuse would be "in prison," he said.
To add to those constraints, Traficant, if elected, could not carry out congressional duties, which would be considered a business and therefore prohibited by prison policy, Dan Dunne, Bureau of Prisons spokesman in Washington, has said.
"How long would it be before a taxpayer files a lawsuit saying that he's entitled to representation and he's not getting it?" Juhasz said. The taxpayer's lawsuit could ask that a vacancy be declared, he said.
"If the voters want a congressman who's in prison, does anyone have the power to declare a vacancy?" Juhasz said. "You get the democracy you deserve."
He pointed out that, aside from not being permitted to travel to Washington to vote, Traficant's absence would prohibit him from serving on any House committees.
Liens against property
The government, meanwhile, will begin filing liens next week against any property in Traficant's name, said William J. Edwards, first assistant U.S. attorney in Cleveland. The liens can be filed without knowing beforehand if, for example, Traficant owns property in Mahoning, Trumbull or Columbiana counties or anywhere else, Edwards said.
Traficant owes a $1,000 special assessment, $96,000 forfeiture and $150,000 fine. In an order filed July 31, U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells authorized the federal government to seize the money.
The forfeiture amount, decided by the jury that convicted Traficant on 10 counts, reflects illegal gifts, cash bribes and kickbacks from a staffer. The fine is the cost of his incarceration, $1,848 per month, with a $150,000 cap.
Traficant's congressional pension is about $39,000 annually. Edwards said it's unclear if the pension can be seized.
The government will go after real estate and personal items that have value.
Traficant also owes $19,580 in unpaid taxes, which the IRS, not the U.S. attorney's office, will collect, Edwards said.
Edwards said the search for property could take a long time. The collection will be handled by the civil division of the U.S. attorney's office and the investigation by the FBI and IRS.
Edwards said the investigation will include finding out who's paying property taxes, utility bills and so forth. It's possible, he said, that property fraudulently conveyed to someone else could be seized.
"We have to do title searches, see how property got transferred and if it was transferred for value," Edwards said.
Mahoning County records show that Traficant's home on Main Street in Poland, worth about $160,000, is in his wife Tish's name. His horse farm on state Route 165 in Greenford, worth about $150,000, is in his daughter Elizabeth's name.
The horse farm has changed hands within the Traficant family several times since purchased in 1969. It went from his wife's name into his daughter's name Dec. 10, 1999, two days after his office records were subpoenaed by federal prosecutors.
When Traficant is released from prison and begins serving three years' supervised release, he must provide his probation officer with any requested financial information. He also must pay any remaining unpaid financial penalty.
During the presentence investigation, Traficant refused to provide financial information to the court's pretrial services.