The contractor repeated that he 'owned' the congressman.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
CLEVELAND -- Paving contractor Anthony R. Bucci said he refused when U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. "and Sandy, his girlfriend and farm manager," wanted to hide some of the congressman's assets -- horses -- from the IRS.
Sandy is Sandra J. Ferrante, who lived at Traficant's horse farm in Greenford for 17 years and entered his regal saddle horses in shows. Traficant, D-17th, is married and has a home in Poland.
Bucci, formerly of Liberty, was reminded several times to pull the microphone closer as he testified in a soft, gravelly voice all day Tuesday in U.S. District Court.
The Florida man, a three-time felon (1980, 1992 and 1999), received immunity from prosecution after first invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Craig S. Morford, lead prosecutor, asked Bucci if the congressman had ever discussed with him his problems with the IRS. Although Traficant had been acquitted in 1983 of federal bribery charges, he lost a civil tax case in 1986 when a judge concluded he failed to declare as income $160,000 he'd taken from organized crime figures.
Bucci said the IRS topic was discussed many times. That led to his testimony about Traficant's wanting to hide horses at his farm from the IRS, but no year was mentioned.
Bucci testified that Traficant and Ferrante came to the Bucci family farm. "He wanted to hide the horses from the IRS and have Sandy move into the farmhouse," Bucci said. After the refusal, "Sandy exploded" and they left.
Bucci said he didn't hide, hold or pretend to buy any of Traficant's horses. The congressman, Bucci said, wanted him to say that he was buying a horse as a "cover-up" for free work his crews did at the 76-acre farm.
Bucci and his brother once owned Asphalt Specialist Inc., then Prime Contractors in Girard. The now-defunct companies primarily bid on federal, state and county highway projects.
Acknowledges fear: When he cross-examined Bucci, Traficant didn't challenge the Florida man's description of Ferrante or ask questions about hiding horses from the IRS.
"Would you ever have reason to fear me?" Traficant asked Bucci.
"Yes," Bucci said. He then related that, while in Florida, he'd heard Traficant had "put a contract out on Sandy's life."
Traficant blew it off as news coverage before his November 2000 election.
The coverage centered on Clarence T. Broad, a farmhand who pleaded guilty to tampering with a grand jury witness, Ferrante. Broad had hatched a plot to hire a hit man and have her killed while "the man" (Traficant) was in Washington, D.C.
Until the FBI warned her of the plot, Ferrante had lived in the downstairs portion of the sprawling farmhouse on West South Range Road. Her expertise with horses had brought three world championships and 26 blue ribbons for Traficant's saddle horses.
"It upsets me to think when somebody has threatened my life -- like Clarence Broad -- that [Traficant] would go on national radio and television and say 'my good friend' and stand behind him," Ferrante said when interviewed by The Vindicator in December 2000.
Bucci's wrongdoing: Morford, meanwhile, had walked Bucci through every dirty deal he ever pulled off.
Over the years, Bucci cheated the IRS, paid bribes to ex-Mahoning County Engineer William P. Fergus, and ran scams on the Ohio Department of Transportation and U.S. Department of Labor. Bucci described Fergus as "very, very corrupt" and said if Fergus got paid "you could do what you wanted."
Fergus spent time in prison for rigging paving bids while he was county engineer.
If there was a way to make money illegally with paving contracts, Bucci admitted doing it.
The testimony turned to the late Charles P. O'Nesti, Traficant's longtime district director and Fergus' close pal.
O'Nesti's brother, Tom, and Tom's son-in-law, Jim Pluchinsky, worked for Fergus. Pluchinsky resigned from the engineer's office Nov. 30.
Bucci said that through Charles O'Nesti's influence with Fergus, he was able to get Pluchinsky to sign off on weight tickets for paving materials used without verifying them. Bucci said he didn't pay Pluchinsky but bought "the kid" dinners.
Fergus once owed Charles O'Nesti $1,000 so, Bucci said, to pay back the debt for Fergus, Bucci tore out and then paved O'Nesti's driveway.
Bucci recalled having Traficant and Charles O'Nesti call the current Mahoning County engineer, Richard Marsico, about approving a $75,000 paving contract change order. Bucci, who gave O'Nesti $1,000 for helping to get the change order approved, described O'Nesti and Marsico as very close.
Marsico's response: Marsico said this morning he approved the $75,000 change order after ODOT signed off on it. The increased cost was caused by a change in ODOT material requirements in 1997, Marsico said.
Bucci's company was hired in 1996 by Fergus to handle the county's annual street repaving program, which netted the company more than $1 million, Marsico said. But the company did not get the work done in 1996 and received permission from Fergus to finish the project the following year, Marsico said.
Regarding his relationship with O'Nesti, Marsico acknowledged they knew each other for many years, but said he would not describe them as "very close." Marsico said O'Nesti "never tried to influence me to do anything illegal." He said he did not think O'Nesti was familiar with the Bucci paving job and "he never talked to me about it."
Also, Marsico said he suspected Pluchinsky was involved in signing off on weight tickets, but federal authorities never released his name. Marsico said that if Pluchinsky was still with the engineer's office, he would have brought disciplinary charges against him.
Failed to collect debt: Bucci said he tried in vain in the late 1980s to collect nearly $13,000 from Traficant for work done at the farm and even threatened a lawsuit. Bucci said he and his brother decided they had a choice: "Basically we were gonna sue a congressman or for $13,000, own him."
Bucci testified that with the debt forgiven, Traficant interceded on his behalf with federal and state agencies whenever needed until 1996. Morford showed letters with Traficant's U.S. House of Representatives letterhead sent to whomever was giving Bucci a hard time.
Traficant sprung one line on Bucci: "Didn't I tell your attorney to shove that lawsuit up your asphalt?"
"You never talked to him, Jim," came Bucci's reply.
"Did I pay you?" Traficant asked.
"Not a penny, Jim."
Bucci said his crews delivered oats, sand for the corral and sawdust for horses' bedding; slagged roads, the driveway and parking lot; re-graded for better drainage, hauled away trash, re-supported the old farmhouse foundation and much more. Bucci also gave Traficant a riding lawn mower the congressman asked for worth about $3,000.
Morford wondered if Bucci had ever lent Traficant any vehicles. Bucci said there was a decent Ford pickup that came back wrecked after Traficant used it and a horse trailer that turned out to be too small for Traficant's horses. Bucci said he refused to lend his Excalibur vehicle that Traficant "constantly wanted."
Traficant questions: In the afternoon, Traficant, obviously still ruffled by Bucci's morning comment that he "owned" the congressman, got the contractor to repeat it more than once.
"Your testimony is that you 'owned' me?" Traficant asked.
"Yes," Bucci answered.
When Bucci landed a paving job in Poland, the congressman wanted some of the blacktop meant for the streets used at his home on Main Street, Bucci testified. "I told him it was too risky. I didn't know the inspector," the contractor said.
"At that time, you 'owned' me or not?" Traficant asked, anger in his voice.
"Yes," Bucci answered matter-of-factly.
Later, Traficant wondered if $13,000 was a good price for a politician.
Bucci said that's not how he put it and explained, again, that he had the choice to sue a sitting congressman or allow the $13,000 to pay for favorable actions in the future.
When Weathersfield Township owed Bucci for paving that turned out to be shoddy, Bucci said he knew where to find George F. Buccella, a township trustee -- on Traficant's farm.
At the time, Buccella also was a congressional staffer and has testified that he worked on the farm while collecting a federal paycheck.
Traficant told Buccella to make sure the paving debt got paid, Bucci said.
"Did you get a check?" Morford asked. Bucci said he did.
Buccella is now the Trumbull County Health Board administrator.
His recollection: Buccella said today that Traficant called him on behalf of the Bucci brothers telling him, "They're good people. Can you get them their money?" Buccella said at the time, in 1996 or 1997, he was very displeased with the work done by the Buccis on the township's $250,000 street resurfacing project and did not want to pay the company until they made improvements.
After speaking to Traficant, Buccella said, he went to the two other township trustees and agreed to give the Buccis 90 percent of the project's cost and tell them they would get the remaining 10 percent in the spring when they came back to finish the work.
"I was protecting our taxpayers' money," he said.
But when Buccella went to the township office to sign the Bucci check, he said, it was for the full amount and the check already had the signatures of the two other trustees and the township clerk. Buccella signed it anyway.
"The Buccis came back and made the job right and the roads have held up as good as any others in the township," he said.
Minority contractor: Morford, who spent about four hours delving into Bucci's sordid past, asked about Greg Tyson, who once owned Capitol Ready Mix in Youngstown.
What was Tyson's role? the prosecutor asked.
"He was black; he was gonna be our minority," Bucci answered. The scam, Bucci said, was to set Tyson up as a "paper contractor" and, being black, he would pre-qualify for minority contracts with ODOT.
Tyson had trouble getting a $600,000 to $800,000 bank loan to buy Bucci's concrete batch plant inside Bucci's building. "He was really paying for nothing. I had absolute control," Bucci said.
Traficant stepped in to get Bank One to lend Tyson the money, Bucci said. Tyson "couldn't get a loan to buy a newspaper," he said.
Tyson got the loan then defaulted on it, Bucci said.
After court, Traficant said he will call defense witnesses to prove Bucci lied.