One attorney called the ethics committee testimony 'simply flat wrong.'
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- James A. Traficant Jr. can return a favor in November if Richard E. Detore's lawyers call the imprisoned ex-congressman as a defense witness.
Detore, a Virginia engineer, is set for trial Nov. 12 in Cleveland, charged with bribery conspiracy. Prosecutors say he helped conceal J.J. Cafaro of Liberty as the true buyer and restorer of Traficant's vintage boat.
The trial begins a week after the general election.
Unless removed from the ballot, Traficant is an independent candidate for his old job as congressman in the reconfigured 17th District. The U.S House of Representatives expelled him July 24, and he began serving an eight-year prison sentence July 30.
Should Traficant be called to testify in November, he would be moved from the Federal Correctional Institution at Allenwood in White Deer, Pa., and housed temporarily in a county jail near the federal court in Cleveland.
Youngstown attorneys Don L. Hanni Jr. and David J. Betras expressed interest in representing Detore together. Hanni said Saturday that he had been retained by Detore, who has gone through several lawyers since being indicted in October 2001.
"Detore couldn't have a finer lawyer than me," Hanni said. To accept Betras as co-counsel, Hanni joked that Betras must take down his billboards.
"I would love, relish, cherish this case. Mr. Detore makes a very compelling witness. In my opinion, he can put in enough reasonable doubt," Betras said.
Faith in the case
He said the evidence, including documents, is not overwhelming, with only J.J. Cafaro, Capri Cafaro (his daughter) and Albert Lange of Virginia as the pivotal witnesses. The case centers on Cafaro's USAerospace Group and his efforts to reward Traficant for promoting USAG technology.
Prosecutors "don't have it in this one -- I hope [Detore] hires me," Betras said. The lawyer said he would put Detore on the witness stand because "he holds the key to his jail house. The case rises and falls on him."
Would Betras call Traficant? "I don't know if I'd want to call a witness already convicted of the crime. If I were to represent Detore, I would have to look hard and long, but Jim Traficant makes a great witness, and he's very compelling," Betras said.
Betras believes Traficant would likely jump at the chance to testify.
Traficant would be articulate and convincing on the witness stand, Hanni said.
Traficant declined to take the witness stand on his own behalf at trial.
"You put Detore, you put Traficant, you cross-examine J.J., you cross-examine Al Lange, you get an explanation for the documents, and you could level the playing field," Betras said.
Detore -- appearing as a surprise witness -- gave sworn testimony July 16 to a House ethics subcommittee on Traficant's behalf. Detore said he didn't testify at Traficant's trial six months ago on advice of counsel.
Detore testified before the committee knowing that what he said could later be used against him. Traficant called him a patriot.
Although the ethics committee rejected what Detore said, the hearing transcript was turned over to the Justice Department for review.
Detore alleged he was pressured by Traficant's lead prosecutor, Craig S. Morford, to give false testimony against Traficant in exchange for leniency.
Prosecutors said it "speaks volumes" that Detore didn't obtain affidavits from his lawyers to back up his claims.
Detore said his Washington lawyer at the time, John Nassikas, was present during the encounter with Morford. Nassikas, though, said that the government acted appropriately and professionally, court papers show.
Prosecutors called Detore's statements self-serving and staged to avoid cross-examination. The testimony, they said, was far-fetched, loaded with hearsay, speculation and false and misleading statements.
Betras, in analyzing Detore's allegation about Morford, said two people can witness the same event and come away with different impressions. "There's no doubt in my mind that Mr. Detore believes what he witnessed and Mr. Morford believes what he witnessed and both can be right."
Betras described Morford as a professional. He said that prosecutors have to make credibility calls all the time and obviously Morford didn't believe Detore's explanation of his involvement with Traficant.
Law-enforcement methods can include laying out the ramifications for not telling the truth, Betras said,
"I've never seen them lie," he said of federal prosecutors. "They can't say 'We're going to indict your wife' for the hell of it. In working with the U.S. attorney's office, they always have a basis for what they say; they don't make up stuff."
Detore's most recent lawyer, John M. Dowd of Washington, D.C., had a strong reaction to the ethics committee testimony.
Detore said Dowd dropped out because of nonpayment of $239,000 -- the cost of three motions. Detore also said he didn't know Dowd wanted to withdraw from the case until it happened.
"I informed the [ethics] committee that testimony is simply flat wrong and incorrect," Dowd said. "The reasons that we had to withdraw ... I disclosed on five specific occasions before we moved to withdraw -- we told Richard we had to withdraw and why. He was provided with the papers we filed before they were filed with the court."
Dowd said he informed the committee so that the record could be corrected.
"All that testimony is baloney," Dowd said. "He states the only reason we got out is he hadn't paid his bill, and he knows that's not correct. It's true he hasn't paid his bill, but that wasn't it."
Following the rules
Dowd said because the judge sealed the withdrawal, he is not at liberty to discuss it. He said the reasons are well known to Detore.
"Our firm had no discretion in the matter. We had to follow the rules and we had to get out," Dowd said. "We submitted that to the court, and the judge agreed with us, and [Detore] knew about it."
Dowd said Detore had an opportunity to respond -- all he had to do was pick up the phone.
"The other false statement he made was that he only got three motions. That's baloney. We obtained all the discovery in the case, and we were ready to try the case in court on time, July 29," Dowd said.
Betras said he could overcome discrepancies in Detore's testimony that surfaced after the ethics committee hearing.
Hanni said Detore was indicted solely because he refused to testify against Traficant.
Detore, in his testimony, also leveled harsh accusations at Lange and Cafaro.
"When Mr. Detore is subject to cross-examination and a full airing of the issues that he testified about before the ethics committee hearing, I think people will find him not to be credible," said Allen Gardner, Lange's Washington, D.C., lawyer. Lange told the truth at Traficant's trial, Gardner said.
Members of the jury that convicted Traficant said they found Lange to be a very credible witness. Lange, who testified with immunity, said cover stories were devised to make it appear that he really wanted to restore and own Traficant's boat, which he didn't.
Hanni, meanwhile, wondered how Detore could have conspired to commit a crime when the conduct -- the boat transaction and meals USAG paid for -- in his opinion, wasn't criminal.
It was Traficant's duty to encourage new industry for the community, which is what he did in promoting Cafaro's technology and requiring that the jobs come to the Mahoning Valley, Hanni said. Cafaro's only crime was not registering as a lobbyist, Hanni said.
Cafaro's Cleveland lawyer, Geoffrey S. Mearns, has said that Detore's stories will be revealed for what they truly are: a campaign of unfounded, self-serving allegations designed to divert attention from his own conduct. Cafaro, who pleaded guilty to giving Traficant an illegal gratuity, will be sentenced Wednesday.
Detore did not respond to several messages left at his Virginia home.