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Will No. 12 make the jury cut?



Published: Thu, February 7, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The congressman is invited to travel to Florida to question a government witness.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

CLEVELAND -- As you read this, U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. may have already considered that picking prospective juror No. 12 could work to his advantage.

Would-be juror No. 12, though, doesn't really want to drive back and forth from Conneaut to sit in U.S. District Court for six to eight weeks.

Unless he can stay in a hotel.

Someone will undoubtedly tell him that jurors who live 60 miles from the federal courthouse can stay in a hotel, at a government rate, paid for by the court.

On Wednesday, the 17th District congressman hauled out two boxes with roughly 100 jury questionnaires to read last night and today. His racketeering trial resumes Friday with jury selection.

Juror No. 12, a 20-year-old janitor who lives at home, listed two favorite TV shows on his jury questionnaire: "Farscape" and "Enterprise."

"Enterprise" is the fifth chapter of the "Star Trek" saga, set in 2151. That's 100 years or so before Capt. James T. Kirk, Spock -- and "Beam me up, Scotty."

It's a safe bet that an "Enterprise" fan cut his teeth on "Star Trek" reruns.

Traficant might have an affinity for someone who appreciates his parting shot after his often whimsical one-minute speeches on the House floor: "Beam me up, Mr. Speaker."

Prospective juror No. 12 describes his political leanings as "middle of the road." He earns between $10,000 and $19,999.

Sources of information: He reads Men's Journal and Scientific American. His main source of news is CNN.

Traficant appeared Monday on CNN's "Crossfire" and blasted federal prosecutors who are out to convict him for selling his influence.

CNN has followed Traficant over the years, including a report from Wolf Blitzer on the congressman's May 4, 2001, indictment.

When asked, "In general, how accurate do you think the reporting is in the news media," No. 12 circled "four." "Very accurate" was one; "very inaccurate" was five.

Traficant's love-hate relationship with the press is legendary.

No snag in No. 12's party affiliation: It's Republican. Traficant, a Democrat, votes Republican more often than not.

Thoughts on witnesses: Traficant has vehemently opposed the government's calling any experts to verify fingerprint evidence. U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells hasn't ruled on his objection.

Prospective juror No. 12 said he would doubt the testimony of a paid expert. "Why would they testify against those paying him or her," he wrote in the space provided.

He also checked "Yes" when asked if he would automatically doubt the testimony of someone who had a plea agreement that required them to testify in exchange for a lighter sentence.

The person, No. 12 wrote, "Will say what needs said to cover for himself."

The question was asked again later, worded a bit differently. No. 12 stayed true to form and checked that witnesses with plea bargains would be less likely to testify truthfully.

Traficant has been saying the same thing. He's gone so far as to accuse the government of "buying" false testimony with plea agreements.

How does No. 12 feel about white-collar or public-corruption crime? Compared with violent crime, he checked "less serious."

He did, though, think racketeering was morally wrong.

Mahoning cases: When asked to express an opinion, he circled "didn't support or oppose" the efforts taken by the FBI, IRS and U.S. attorney's office to prosecute public officials and lawyers in Mahoning County. He wrote that he doesn't live there and doesn't hear about it.

Traficant had objected to the question on the 42-page jury questionnaire. Informing the jury pool of prosecutions in Mahoning County had no bearing on his case and confers a negative and prejudicial inference to potential jurors, he said.

If Traficant thinks No. 12 has possibilities, one answer may have thrown him.

After answering "yes" that he could be fair, to another question, "Can you keep an open mind?" the prospective juror answered "No."

With no written explanation, neither Traficant nor anyone else can say if No. 12 sides with the congressman or the government.

Comments outside court: The congressman, as he left court Wednesday, didn't hesitate to once again voice outrage that no jurors will come from the Mahoning Valley. People there know him and the other individuals involved in the case, he said.

He also criticized Judge Wells again.

"The judge might as well be the prosecutor on this case," Traficant said, tugging his blue-jean jacket against the bitter cold wind. He said she always rules in favor of the prosecution team.

"She's a nice lady from a nice family, but she's given them anything they wanted," Traficant said.

Judge Wells has warned Traficant more than once to not discuss the case with the press.

Less than 15 minutes into the first day of his trial Tuesday, Judge Wells slammed him hard, saying, "This trial is not going to be a donnybrook. You will behave yourself in this courthouse."

The judge said it had been reported to her that he said there would be a donnybrook in Cleveland. She said donnybrook in Old English means debauchery and street fighting.

She said if his conduct outside the courthouse affects the trial, she will not hesitate to act -- "You may be very surprised."

Phone accessibility: The judge and Traficant played tug of war Wednesday over his phone accessibility. She has only his district office number at the federal court in Youngstown and couldn't reach him there early Wednesday.

"I am not available by phone," Traficant said in court. "I will be here at the court's schedule."

That wasn't good enough for Judge Wells, who said she has never encountered this type of situation.

He said he can't be reached if he's traveling.

"You seem to not get the picture," Judge Wells said, her voice taking on a firm tone. The judge, exasperated after several attempts to get a phone number, reminded the congressman that, as a condition of his $50,000 bond, he has to be accessible by phone.

"I'm gonna give you a phone number -- if they can find me," he said.

"They," she said, "are not on bond. I need a phone number."

"Put it in writing," Traficant shot back.

"I will," came the terse reply.

Outside court, when asked if he would supply a phone number, Traficant quipped: "I'm gonna give her Craig Morford's phone number."

Grinning, he added: "Maybe I'll let her find me in contempt -- sh-- -- and put me in jail."

Witness in Florida: The government, meanwhile, filed a motion Wednesday to depose via videotape Thomas Williams, an Ohio Department of Transportation inspector. Williams, a key witness, has cancer, is undergoing chemotherapy, and is unable to travel to Cleveland from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The government has accused Traficant of contacting Williams and taking steps to get him to "back off" paving contractors Anthony and Robert Bucci. Williams supervised paving contractors, such as the Buccis, who did work on state and county highways.

The congressman agreed to seek and accept free labor and materials for his horse farm at 6908 W. South Range Road in Green Township from the Buccis with the intent to be influenced in performing official acts on behalf of the contractors, according to the indictment.

The prosecution team has offered to do the Williams deposition on a Friday, weekend or Presidents Day, Feb. 18, at the court's discretion. Traficant is welcome to attend, at government expense, and cross-examine Williams.

Judge Wells will consider the motion and any response Traficant may file.

meade@vindy.com




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