The woman's lawyer says his client feels tricked.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Robin Best didn't want her phone conversation with U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. to be taped.
She made it very, very clear.
"If I talk to you, you can't be putting on a tape recorder," Best told the indicted Poland Democrat.
"Oh, get out of here. When were you ever worried about something like that anyway?" the congressman cajoled. "You've been known to tell it like it is. Who's kidding whom?"
"I mean it," Best warned.
"Don't worry about that. What's going on?" Traficant said.
Obviously satisfied that her conversation last September with Traficant was private, Best discussed the racketeering case.
Best once co-owned WRRO, a Warren radio station, and Henry P. Nemenz was an investor. Nemenz owns a chain of grocery stores in the Youngstown area and was part-owner in Colonial Structures.
Traficant was host of a show at the station in 1994. Nemenz, Best and Traficant were social friends.
Testimony expected: Nemenz will testify for the government about a pole barn-riding arena his company built at Traficant's horse farm in Greenford. Nemenz, after collecting only $15,000 of the $89,000 Traficant owed, threatened legal action and eventually received a settlement far below the price tag, the government said.
Instead of paying what he owed, Traficant tried to make Nemenz look better to shoppers while the store owner was embroiled in an effort to get rid of picketing by United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 880.
The transcript of the conversation Traficant had with Best has pages missing, names and other information blacked out. The congressman submitted the tape to be used as evidence at trial, which begins Monday.
Suit dismissed: He included a partial transcript of the tape in a $250 million civil rights lawsuit he filed against the government. U.S. District Judge Peter C. Economus dismissed the suit Friday for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
"People are saying anything now to avoid the heat, but you see, Henry, by telling the truth, can finally put this prosecutor [Craig S. Morford] right on the spot," Traficant told Best on the tape. "He has been pressuring and twisting people and pressuring them, and Henry wasn't bull-------- me. That's the exact words he used.
"He was not bull-------- you, but Jim, he doesn't want to get indicted, and here's the truth -- if he doesn't play it their way, they'll find a reason to indict him and probably indict me for something," Best said.
After this exchange, the transcript skips three pages.
"You should see the paperwork they created," Best said. "You should see the paperwork they created on you and me at the radio station."
"For what?" Traficant asked.
"They accused us of embezzling [several words blacked out]," Best replied.
Later, Best said: "Did I need to be in a room -- did I do anything that justified five agents, two IRS and Morford?"
"What did they tell you, you were going to get charged with extorting or shaking down [name blacked out]?" Traficant asked.
"Evidently they had this paper trail of all the little notes I sent [blacked out], all your meetings with [blacked out] remember [blacked out]," Best continued.
"Yeah, to help you guys. That was about it," Traficant said. "They made something sinister out of it."
"Very much so," Best said.
Traficant placed a black star by this response and others in the transcript he wanted to draw special attention to.
Another occurrence: Traficant once had a conversation with Nemenz during a chance encounter at Bruno's Restaurant in Boardman and, while talking to Best on the phone in September, tried to get her to agree with his version of what happened.
Traficant's version is that John Innella, no address given, overheard Nemenz saying "Morford put words in my mouth" and that his lawyer told him to "tell Morford what they want to hear so that he would not be indicted."
Innella said Traficant and Nemenz agreed that the pole barn-riding arena construction bill had been paid in full. Innella's affidavit about the encounter has been rejected by U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells.
On the tape, Traficant said: "You and Henry have talked, evidently, and Henry told you that was exactly what happened at Bruno's. Let's tell it like it is."
Traficant doesn't mention to Best on tape the content of the conversation he had with Nemenz at the restaurant. The congressman only gets her to agree that she knew about the encounter.
Lawyer's opinion: Best and Nemenz are represented by Boardman attorney J. Gerald Ingram. Ingram believes Traficant's taping Best after telling her he wouldn't wasn't illegal, but was morally and ethically wrong.
"I am hesitant to say anything out of respect for Congressman Traficant's fair trial rights. However, since he opened the door by filing this transcript, it's appropriate to note that Ms. Best feels tricked and deceived," Ingram said.
"The tape, in my opinion, is nothing more than self-serving manipulation by the congressman. He repeatedly tries to put words in her mouth."
Ingram, as Best's lawyer, has a copy of the tape, which is substantially longer than the transcript would lead one to believe. He said his name is among those blacked out but wouldn't identify the others.
A reporter asked Ingram to explain the comment Best made about being questioned by so many investigators. He said the number at the session was a mischaracterization.
"It may not have been a comfortable encounter with the FBI. However, they were straightforward in the questions they asked regarding allegations they had heard," Ingram said, quoting a letter he received from Best. "It is their job and they simply did their job."
Ingram said if the FBI and police can't ask questions, "they might as well fold up their tents."
Ingram also clarified Best's comments about Nemenz's indictment concerns.
Had Nemenz withheld information about the investigation, he likely would have found himself in trouble, Ingram said. If he did not withhold information, he was less likely, the lawyer said.