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The former contractor said the congressman was well aware of his bad reputation in Youngstown.



Published: Tue, February 26, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The former contractor said the congressman was well aware of his bad reputation in Youngstown.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

CLEVELAND -- Former contractor Anthony R. Bucci said he and his brother had a choice: "Basically we were gonna sue a congressman or for $13,000, own him."

Bucci had done work at U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr.'s horse farm in Greenford and for two years tried unsuccessfully to collect $12,985, which included interest.

Bucci said he "totally expected to be paid" and sent an invoice in January 1987. Another invoice was sent in May 1987, and then in July 1987 Bucci's attorney sent a letter requesting payment.

Bucci said he wanted his money, and he read portions of a letter sent in August 1987, which said the work had been done in good faith, and "as a congressman, we the public expect a certain amount of integrity. We are expected to pay our bills."

More letters to the congressman were sent requesting payment, and finally in 1988 Bucci threatened to sue for the money. Bucci said that despite all the letters, he'd received no response from Traficant about work done at the farm.

Bucci said that suing the congressman wasn't the smartest business move because of federal projects he might have in his future, but that he couldn't afford to lose the money owed.

Met with O'Nesti: Craig S. Morford, lead prosecutor, asked how the dispute was resolved. Bucci said he met with Charles P. O'Nesti, the congressman's district director, and "Chuck indicated to me the congressman could do things for me in the future."

Bucci said it was a lot of money and he would expect to have favors.

Bucci said Traficant later told him, "I can do a lot more for you than any attorney."

Morford asked if Bucci was a person who parts easily with money. Bucci said he wasn't, then said the decision was made to either sue or own a congressman.

Traficant, who couldn't hear Bucci's soft voice, asked to have that portion of his testimony repeated. So Bucci repeated the words "own him."

In return for Bucci's forgiving the debt, Traficant interceded with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to get Bucci, now of Florida, moved from a North Carolina facility to one closer to his former Liberty home.

Criminal history: Bucci said Traficant was well aware of his criminal history. He then answered "yes" when Morford presented a list of his crimes. He regularly hid money from the IRS, filed false wage reports, fixed paving contracts, filed false change orders, failed to comply with specifications for highway projects, used less material than required, used lesser-grade materials, paid bribes to inspectors and filed false insurance claims.

After the list, Morford said, "What was your reputation in the Youngstown community?"

"Not good," Bucci said.

"Congressman Traficant was aware of your reputation?" Morford asked. Bucci answered "yes."

Bucci's relationship with the congressman began in December 1986, when Bucci had union problems with the Operating Engineers. Bucci said a favorable agreement was worked out and he credited Traficant. It was then that Traficant asked him to do work at the horse farm. Traficant wanted some walls repaired, for example.

"We did what he wanted whether it made sense to me as a contractor or not," Bucci said.

The investigation of Traficant began in September 1999 when Bucci told the government he'd done work at the farm in return for favors, according to testimony of an FBI agent.

Bucci, a felon, was the government's first witness today in U.S. District Court.

In January 2000, news spread that the congressman's office files and phone records had been subpoenaed the month before. He wasted no time in calling the investigation an FBI-IRS vendetta and predicting that he would be indicted.

Widely spread rumors had been that O'Nesti, Traficant's longtime district director, supplied the flame that ignited the investigation of the congressman.

In 1998, O'Nesti cooperated with the FBI against his pals, mob boss Lenny Strollo and Phil Chance, former Mahoning County sheriff. Both are in prison.

O'Nesti died in February 2000 before being sentenced for racketeering crimes but had supplied an audiotape confessing that he kicked back part of his salary each month to Traficant for 13 years. Evidence of the tape didn't surface until recently.

Traficant, of Poland, D-17th, held fast to his vendetta theory as he left court late Monday, saying the investigation began long before Bucci. The congressman maintains that he has been a target since he won acquittal on bribery charges in 1983 when Mahoning County sheriff.

Bucci asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination today when he took the stand. U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells then granted Bucci immunity from prosecution and compelled him to testify.

Agent's testimony: FBI Special Agent Joseph A. Bushner testified Monday that a former assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting Bucci learned from Bucci about the work he was doing at Traficant's farm and passed the information on to the FBI in September 1999.

Bucci once operated Prime Contractors and Asphalt Specialist Inc. in Girard with his brother, Robert, who reportedly fled the country a few years ago.

Anthony Bucci is named in count one of Traficant's 10-count indictment, conspiracy to violate the federal bribery statute.

In return for Bucci's forgiving the nearly $13,000 debt for work on the horse farm, Traficant interceded on behalf of the Buccis not only with federal and local prison authorities, but also with Ohio Department of Transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Weathersfield Township trustees, Mahoning County engineer and a Youngstown bank, federal prosecutors said.

Bucci testified today that with Traficant's help, his disqualification from bidding on federal projects was reduced from three years to 18 months. Bucci had been disqualified because he failed to pay prevailing wage rates for his workers.

At odds with ODOT: Bucci said his relationship with ODOT was not good because he was uncooperative, didn't abide by the specifications and "things like that."

Morford asked Bucci about Thomas Williams, a retired ODOT inspector.

"Personally, I hated him," Bucci said. He said in his experience in working with engineers, he found Williams to be the most knowledgeable engineer he'd ever come across. The reason he hated Williams, Bucci said, is "he made me follow the specifications."

Bucci complained to Traficant many times about Williams and was present to overhear a phone call the congressman made to Williams, in which he screamed at the ODOT inspector and threatened to have him fired.

Court will recess Wednesday through Friday this week to allow Traficant and the prosecution team to videotape Williams in Florida. Williams, who has cancer, cannot travel to Cleveland from his Cape Canaveral home.

In May 1999, Bucci pleaded guilty to mail fraud and conspiracy to defraud the IRS. It doesn't appear from the criminal docket for his case that sentencing, which had been set for October 1999, ever took place.

A week before the sentencing date, the government filed a motion under seal and the federal judge granted it and filed his order under seal. Bucci had received a six-month sentence in 1992 for a crime related to his paving work.

Testimony about Sinclair: Bushner is a former Marine captain. He assisted other FBI agents when Boardman attorney R. Allen Sinclair decided to cooperate and admit that he kicked back $2,500 each month to Traficant while on the congressman's staff.

At first, Sinclair denied the kickbacks and said "I don't want to be part of 'getting Traficant,'" Bushner said, reading from an FBI document that recorded the Jan. 24, 2000, interview. A week later, Sinclair decided to cooperate but expressed concerns about his safety, Bushner testified.

Sinclair believed Traficant to be volatile and said he had firearms at his Boardman office, Bushner testified.

Based on a number of factors, a decision was made not to wire Sinclair and attempt to secretly record Traficant, the agent said.

Sinclair had described Traficant to the FBI as a "touchy feely person" who frequently hugged and slapped people on the back, and there was concern he would detect the wire, Bushner said.

The boiler room where Sinclair and Traficant often spoke at 11 Overhill Road -- Sinclair's law office and Traficant's district office -- had too much background noise. Bugging Sinclair's vehicle was rejected because Traficant would "talk in code" and reach over to put his hand over Sinclair's mouth, Bushner said.

"My main problem, I didn't think Mr. Sinclair could pull it off," Bushner said of wiring Sinclair. "He was very nervous about the congressman and doesn't have a poker face."

No fingerprints: As he sat on the witness stand, Bushner opened two packets that held $24,500 in cash, a letter, small sticky notes from Traficant and a piece of a restaurant place mat with a "to-do" list for the farm.

All the exhibits, which were passed among the jury, had been tested for fingerprints and none contained Traficant's fingerprints, Bushner said.

Sinclair had supplied all but the place mat fragment, which was given to the FBI by Anthony Bucci. The cash represented kickback money Traficant had returned to Sinclair, wanting the lawyer to tell the FBI that he'd made cash withdrawals and kept the money at home, testimony has shown.

Traficant, when he began cross-examining Bushner, asked if the agent had served in the Gulf War. Bushner hadn't.

"Thank you anyway for your service," Traficant said. Bushner thanked him back.

Traficant wondered if Sinclair had a code name with the FBI.

Ripples of laughter followed when Bushner said Sinclair's code name was Allen.

Traficant, acting incredulous, hammered away at the lack of an audiotape with his and Sinclair's conversations. The congressman wondered how we could put a man on the moon and not adjust an audiotape to a little boiler room noise.

Traficant asked if there were discussions at the FBI about how to trap him into a confession. Bushner said there weren't.

The congressman asked repeatedly if Sinclair had been concerned that his wife would be investigated because the Overhill Road property had been put into her name. Bushner answered no. Congressional staff members are prohibited from renting district office space to their boss.

meade@vindy.com




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