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Ruling expected on use of hearsay evidence



Published: Tue, February 19, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Over the weekend, the jury may have wondered why the congressman owed the IRS so much money.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

CLEVELAND -- A decision today by U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells would keep out or let in shop talk Jackie Bobby had with two congressional staffers about kickbacks to U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr.

The judge had to decide over the three-day weekend if the hearsay evidence about Charles P. O'Nesti and Henry A. DiBlasio is admissible. There are exceptions to the hearsay rule, such as unavailability of witnesses.

O'Nesti, who gave the FBI an audiotaped confession about his kickbacks, is dead. He had been Traficant's district director until March 1998.

DiBlasio, 72, is under indictment and ill at his Rivera Beach, Fla., home and cannot travel. He is accused of lying to a grand jury about the kickbacks.

DiBlasio will invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refuse to answer questions. He served as administrative assistant until late 1998.

Judge Wells had to decide if DiBlasio's lawyer's letter outlining the situation is sufficient to keep DiBlasio off the witness stand. Witnesses are supposed to be asked questions before they refuse to answer.

Bernard A. Smith, an assistant U.S. attorney, had Bobby back on the stand today to complete the direct examination that began Friday. Bobby served as Traficant's office manager from 1985 to June 1998.

The Poland woman has been given immunity from prosecution in return for her testimony.

Away from jury: On Friday, as a way of previewing the hearsay testimony, Judge Wells allowed Smith to ask Bobby questions about O'Nesti and DiBlasio without the jury present.

Bobby said that O'Nesti had grumbled to her privately that he had to give back part of his salary each month to Traficant and had to pay tax on the income. She recalled O'Nesti mentioned once that the amount was $1,000.

Bobby also recalled being at a restaurant in Niles with DiBlasio when he admitted he was, in fact, giving back part of his salary but didn't mention the amount.

Bobby, who wanted to replace O'Nesti as district director, quit when Traficant ignored her request.

Testimony on IRS debt: Over the three-day weekend, jurors may have wondered why Traficant declared on his congressional forms that he owed the IRS more than $10,000.

Bobby testified last Friday that she prepared the annual reports. Until 1994, she said, Traficant claimed only two liabilities of $10,000 or more -- what he owed the IRS and what he owed the Congressional Federal Credit Union.

After 1994, he claimed only the debt he owed the IRS, Bobby said. "It's his responsibility the information is correct," she said of the forms.

Last Friday, Smith didn't ask Bobby to explain the IRS liability. If the prosecutor doesn't revisit it, jurors know only that Traficant owed the IRS a lot of money -- but not why.

Jurors know he single-handedly beat bribery charges in 1983: He shouted it during his opening statement Wednesday. He also told them that, as soon as he left court 19 years ago, the FBI and IRS targeted him again.

What Traficant failed to mention was that, in 1986, he lost a civil tax case, which sprang from the 1983 trial, when a jury determined that he failed to claim more than $160,000 he'd taken from organized crime figures during his successful run for Mahoning County sheriff in 1980. He's been paying the tax and penalties ever since.

As a member of Congress, Traficant, of Poland, D-17th, must disclose each year liabilities of $10,000 or more.

Contractors not mentioned: The federal prosecutor's focus last week on the disclosure forms was to show that Traficant never claimed owing contractors for work done at his horse farm in Greenford.

Bobby testified that Traficant's liabilities did not include owing Bernard J. Bucheit (Bucheit International), Greg Tyson (Capital Ready Mix-Big G Construction) or Anthony and Robert Bucci (Prime Contractors and Asphalt Specialist Inc.).

Bucheit, 69, of West Palm Beach, Fla. is under indictment, charged with bribing Traficant and lying about it to a grand jury.

Traficant said he gave Tyson a horse as payment for work done at the farm.

Tyson and Anthony Bucci are on the government's witness list.

After describing Traficant as "very tight with his money," Craig S. Morford, lead prosecutor, said the congressman accepted more than $100,000 in improvements, labor, "oats and sawdust" and more at his horse farm.

Property records show the farmhouse was built in 1875 and certain outbuildings added in 1920. Aside from a pole barn-riding arena, a 1,056-square-foot lean-to was constructed in 1996.

Bob Rimedio, chief appraiser for Mahoning County, said the property, including land and buildings, is valued at $250,000 as of a reappraisal done in 1999. In 1995, the property was appraised at $184,100, he said.

Traficant "had a love for show horses -- a very expensive hobby," Morford said during his opening statement. Instead of paying for improvements, Traficant used "crooked contractors" to do work at the farm, then did congressional favors for them in return, Morford said.

"Watch for the repetitive pattern," Morford said. The jury, he said, will hear from a "whole chorus" of witnesses, most of whom don't know one another.

Specific allegations: The following allegations appear in Traficant's indictment:

* In May 1987, $10,233 worth of unspecified work at the farm was done by Asphalt Specialist, once operated by Anthony and Robert Bucci. The contractors, who had billed Traficant, were persuaded by him to forgive the debt in return for favors.

* Through October 1996, the Buccis, companies they controlled and others acting at their request continued to provide free labor, materials, supplies and equipment at the farm.

* For six months, during the mid-1990s, a Bucci employee -- at the contractor's expense -- worked full time at the farm. He repaired machinery, tended horses, cleaned horse stalls, baled hay, mended fences and assisted in carpentry work in the barns.

* In 1993, Bucheit International provided an addition and deck at the farmhouse.

* In 1994, Capital Ready Mix-Big G Construction provided a concrete floor in the barn, installed drainage pipes and waterlines, cleared and hauled debris and delivered and spread gravel.

* In 1998, James A. Sabatine, who owned Hardrives Paving at the time, gave Traficant $2,400 rather than do the long list of farm work the congressman requested. Sabatine pleaded guilty and is expected to testify.

* In April 1999, A. David Sugar of Honey Creek Contracting provided labor, materials and supplies, such as field drainage systems, cutting roads, removing trees, obtaining and spreading stones, grading and site preparation work. Sugar is on the witness list.

* In March 2000, a Honey Creek employee hauled a large piece of farm equipment from Traficant's farm to a farm in Pennsylvania. Also that month, Honey Creek employees poured a concrete floor in a barn at Traficant's Poland residence.

meade@vindy.com




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