TRAFICANT TRIAL Both sides begin review of juror questionnaires
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
CLEVELAND -- Hawktime Inc.
It's the only new name to surface in U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr.'s racketeering trial. It showed up in a list of 30 businesses and government agencies on a 42-page jury questionnaire.
Prospective jurors for the 17th District congressman's case had to answer if they, a friend or relative ever worked for Hawktime Inc.
The questionnaire did not ask about ethnic or religious backgrounds, something the 60-year-old Democrat had wanted. The closest any question came was one that inquired if the prospective juror had changed his name and asked them to fill in his old name.
Traficant has been labeled an anti-Semite by some because he aided John Demjanjuk, a Cleveland autoworker once thought to be a Nazi death-camp guard. He reasoned that some Clevelanders who harbor resentment may make it onto his jury.
The last of the 100 men and women called for jury duty, all from the Cleveland area, went home early Tuesday afternoon after filling out the long questionnaires. Federal prosecutors and Traficant were to review the forms today and strike potential jurors for "cause."
Those who have strong feelings about the case -- for or against Traficant or the judicial system -- will not make the cut. Others who have some connection to witnesses or the businesses and agencies listed, or who have been affected by pretrial publicity, also will be excluded.
Those who survive the first cut will report Thursday morning for questioning by the judge, prosecution and Traficant. After that, 12 jurors and six alternates will be seated for the trial, which could last eight weeks.
Motion to stop process: Traficant arrived at court about 10:45 a.m. today and told reporters that he's not happy with the jury selection process. "Our Valley should be involved."
The congressman then filed a motion asking the judge to stop further jury selection and open the jury pool to the entire Northern District of Ohio.
The motion states that limiting the jury pool to geographic boundaries around Cleveland has excluded the Mahoning Valley, where the prosecution alleges the crimes took place, denying him a true and honest trial by his peers.
The judge, saying "we've been over this before," denied the motion. She did, however, grant a motion by Traficant to allow him one full day to review questionnaires, instead of the four hours allotted for today. So the trial will resume Friday morning.
Links with Chance: Hawktime Inc. cropped up among the names of mostly defunct contracting companies that gave Traficant cash, goods or services in return for his influence, the government said.
A source described Hawktime Inc. as a civic group of which Traficant was a member.
Traficant's brainchild, HAWK-NOW, was an 800-number to report crime in Mahoning County. He did TV spots with Phil Chance, the now-imprisoned former Mahoning County sheriff, to promote it.
If permitted, Traficant has questions for government witnesses that suggest Chance turned down house arrest because the plea deal included Chance's testifying against Traficant. In July 1999, Chance was found guilty at trial of racketeering crimes and received a 71-month sentence.
Although the government had turned over its witness list to U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells by Tuesday, Traficant had not and seemed reluctant to give it up. The judge told him to produce it so that she can read both lists to the jury panel.
Without Traficant's witness list, it's unclear if Chance will be called by the congressman to testify.
After a heated exchange Tuesday between Traficant and Judge Wells, the jury selection process slogged along for more than three hours. "The paint's not dry yet," one court official quipped as the last few remaining jurors finished filling out their forms.
Judge's warning: Much as a teacher of 10-year-old ruffians shows intolerance for bad behavior the first day of school, Judge Wells set the ground rules early for Traficant. She flashed anger and her voice took on a steely edge as she warned him about discussing the case with the press and calling the trial a donnybrook.
Traficant, who wore his trademark bell-bottom pants, navy blazer and well-worn shoes (no cowboy boots), didn't appear apologetic once he stepped outside the courtroom. However, he did decline to talk specifics about the trial, saying he didn't want to get in trouble because the judge might force a lawyer on him.
Contractor pleads innocent: About 20 minutes after Traficant left the federal courthouse's third floor, Bernard J. Bucheit pleaded innocent in a fourth-floor courtroom to conspiracy to violate the federal bribery statute, giving an unlawful gratuity to a public official and perjury before a federal grand jury.
Bucheit, 69, of West Palm Beach, Fla., is the third man indicted in the Traficant case. The others are Richard E. Detore, a Virginia engineer, and Henry A. DiBlasio, a retired lawyer and former member of Traficant's staff in Boardman.
So far, three businessmen, J.J. Cafaro, James R. Sabatine and A. David Sugar, skipped indictment and negotiated plea agreements in the Traficant case. All are expected to testify for the government,
Magistrate Judge Patricia A. Hemann released Bucheit on a $25,000 unsecured bond. She imposed no interstate travel restrictions but verified that he had surrendered his passport to pretrial services.
If convicted, Bucheit faces up to 12 years in prison and $750,000 in fines.
Accusation: Bucheit is accused of doing contracting work in the early 1990s worth more than $30,000 at Traficant's horse farm in Greenford and not requiring payment. Included was a deck replacement, electrical work, elaborate railings and latticework, a gazebo, enclosure of an addition, siding, windows, drywall and finishing work.
The government said that in return, Traficant engaged in numerous official acts to help Bucheit obtain some or all of the $11.6 million owed his company by a Saudi Arabian prince for construction work in the Gaza Strip.
Among those Traficant contacted on Bucheit's behalf were members of the Clinton administration such a Vice President Al Gore and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Despite a sizable settlement from the Saudi prince, Bucheit has a court-appointed federal public defender, Debra M. Hughes of Cleveland.
The magistrate, in reviewing Bucheit's file, noted that he is in the process of liquidating assets. She cautioned him that once funds become available to him, he will no longer be entitled to court-appointed counsel.
"Do you understand that?" Magistrate Judge Hemann asked.
"Yes, your honor," Bucheit answered.
Detore's request: Detore's lawyers, meanwhile, asked that Judge Wells allow them to present certain documents to her in private and have them filed under seal.
Detore maintains the documents will show that he had an attorney-client relationship with Richard J. Harney. The government, though, said Harney was hired as a lawyer by the now-defunct USAerospace Group, managed by Cafaro.
Harney testified at the grand jury that investigated Traficant, which Detore's lawyers maintain violated the attorney-client privilege. Detore's trial is in July.