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Published: Tue, July 16, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.




WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. told a national television audience today that he expects a Wednesday vote by the U.S. House of Representatives, and that it will be for his expulsion.

Speaking today on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" about an hour before the resumption of the second day of his hearing in front of a House ethics subcommittee, Traficant called himself "a political prisoner."

During the 30-minute conversation, Traficant said he was prepared to be kicked out of Congress, where he has spent the past 171/2 years, and to be thrown in jail after a federal judge sentences him July 30 on 10 felony counts including bribery and extortion.

"I am one who's been an outsider in Washington; maybe a bastard son," he said. "I'm prepared for the worst. Frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a damn ... I doubt I will be in Congress."

Traficant, a Poland Democrat, took telephone calls from all over the country, all but one singing his praises.

Sprinkling in some profane language, Traficant took shots at some of his favorite targets: Hispanics, Jewish people, Democrats, the U.S. Justice Department, former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, the federal court system, the IRS, and those involved in his trial.

He also compared the subcommittee investigation to his federal trial, saying he did not receive a fair shake in either.

"The committee wants to expedite this proceeding," he said.

Traficant also mentioned that if he was not in a federal prison, he would speak next month in Florida at the America First convention. The organization is an anti-tax and anti-big business group that supports restricting movement along the nation's borders.

Planned witnesses

Traficant's witness lineup at today's hearing included an unabashed fan, a paid staffer, a woman once described as his girlfriend, and a lawyer who once represented J.J. Cafaro's now-defunct aerospace company.

Traficant began his second day before the subcommittee today, after using two hours Monday of the five hours allotted for his defense. The panel is considering whether he violated House rules of conduct.

The congressman spent time Monday responding to 10 charges of misconduct that were laid out by lawyers for the House ethics committee, officially known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. The charges mirror his conviction in U.S. District Court, where a jury in April found him guilty of racketeering, bribery, obstruction of justice and tax evasion.

Traficant intended to call as defense witnesses Michael L. Robertson, a private investigator from North Canton; Linda J. Kovachik, a congressional staffer; Sandra J. Ferrante, his former longtime horse trainer; and Atty. James Harney.

Court testimony described Ferrante, who lived at his horse farm in Greenford for 17 years, as his girlfriend.

At trial in April, U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells denied Traficant's request to qualify Robertson as an expert. Traficant had wanted Robertson, a former Secret Service agent, to testify as to the methods used to investigate the congressman and what Robertson believed was lacking in the investigation.

An admitted fan

Robertson acknowledged that he is a fan of Traficant's and agreed to charge the congressman $1 to review bank records and grand jury and trial testimony of Boardman attorney R. Allen Sinclair. The private investigator said he generally charges $75 to $150 per hour for his services.

Sinclair, who served 13 months as Traficant's administrative counsel, testified that he kicked back $2,500 of his salary each of those months to the congressman.

At trial, Traficant asked why Robertson wanted to donate his time.

Robertson said because the evidence appeared to be "testimony, not physical evidence." He said his source of information was press accounts of the trial.

Robertson's "hypothesis" was that he found nine deposits of $2,500 each go into Sinclair's lawyer account. The private investigator suggested that could explain the exact amounts allegedly given back to Traficant in 1999.

Craig S. Morford, lead prosecutor at trial, got Robertson to acknowledge that if each of the $2,500 deposits represented checks to Sinclair from clients or insurance settlements it would dismantle the hypothesis.

Checks presented

The prosecutor then produced 10 checks for $2,500 each that Sinclair was paid by clients and insurance companies in 1999 and asked, "What does that do to your hypothesis?"

Robertson said it "resolved the hypothesis." He said he didn't have much time to investigate and didn't have the checks to review.

"What you testified to was irrelevant?" Morford asked.

Robertson admitted it was. Kovachik testified at trial that Traficant did not give kickbacks to Charles P. O'Nesti, the congressman's former district director. Kovachik was supposed to say that O'Nesti did not give kickbacks to Traficant.

Ferrante's testimony may deal with what she knows about work done at the horse farm over the years. Traficant has steadfastly maintained that the farm does not belong to him.

Harney once represented USAerospace Group in Manassas, Va. The now-defunct company was owned by Cafaro, a Liberty resident, who has admitted that he provided Traficant with cash and boat repairs in return for official favors.

One of the congressman's co-defendants, Richard E. Detore, has claimed that the government violated his attorney-client privilege by having Harney testify at the grand jury. Detore, who once worked at USAG, contends that he was personally represented by Harney.

Detore is accused of taking part in the bribery scheme that involved Cafaro.

During Monday's hearing, Traficant told the eight-member panel, "I understand the political dynamics of this. I'm prepared to be expelled. I'm prepared to go to jail, because I didn't do this."

Used trial documents

The committee's case against Traficant was based exclusively on the transcript of and evidence from the criminal trial. The committee has charged him with 10 counts of "egregious misconduct," including bribery, defrauding the U.S. government, income tax evasion and obstruction of justice.

"While each of the charges are separately and abundantly supported by evidence, taken together they demonstrate a pattern and practice of misconduct by a man who violated the public trust and traded his elected office for personal gain," Kenneth Kellner, one of the committee lawyers, said in his opening statement.

As he did in his criminal trial in Cleveland, Traficant alleged that he was being persecuted by federal law-enforcement authorities, led by Reno, whom Traficant had accused of being a traitor to the United States.

He argued that the government's entire case in the trial was based on hearsay and that there was no concrete evidence that he ever accepted bribes or demanded kickbacks from his staff.

Witnesses' plea agreements

Traficant repeatedly noted that many of the government's key witnesses in the criminal trial had reached plea agreements with prosecutors or were granted immunity. That, Traficant said, provided them with an incentive to falsely testify against him.

Anthony Bucci -- who testified in the trial that he had forgiven Traficant's $13,000 in debt because the congressman agreed to help Bucci's asphalt company -- is a "damn liar," Traficant said. "I helped every company in my district."

J.J. Cafaro -- who said he gave Traficant thousands of dollars' worth of farm equipment, meals and other items in exchange for the congressman's arranging meetings with top government officials who could help Cafaro's aerospace company -- is "the biggest joke in history," Traficant said.

Sinclair -- who swore that Traficant had demanded $2,500 per month in kickbacks as a condition of employment -- actually "made me some small loans and I repaid them," Traficant said. "I had no gain."

Paul Lewis, the second ethics committee lawyer, responded that Paul Marcone, Traficant's former chief of staff, had acknowledged in the trial that Bucci's and Cafaro's companies enjoyed special treatment from the congressional office. Lewis pointed out that the former aide was not coerced and did not enter into a plea agreement.

'Bonding' experience

In response to charges that he required his staffers to help repair his boat in Washington, Traficant said: "It was sort of like a bonding thing. Hell, we drank more beer. We didn't do anything on the boat."

Traficant, who is not a lawyer and was not accompanied by any legal counsel at the committee hearing, at times seemed overmatched by the two committee lawyers. They brought laptop computers, dozens of binders, boxes stuffed with thousands of pages of evidence from the criminal trial, and several giant photocopies of documents that were displayed on an easel for committee members.

By contrast, Traficant came with one small box of documents and was accompanied by the legislative director of his Washington office. After the committee lawyers finished presenting their case, Traficant instructed an aide to get a large pad of paper so that he could draw diagrams and write important points on an easel as he presented his defense.

Traficant repeatedly sparred with the two committee lawyers, who on several occasions objected to Traficant's rambling testimony. "He's going way off on a tangent," Lewis said at one point.

Critical of committee

Traficant also verbally sparred with the chairman of the ethics subcommittee, Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., whom Traficant accused of being biased. On several occasions, Traficant also scolded lawmakers for not listening closely or for smirking.

"Is there something funny with me discussing my life?" he asked Rep. Howard Berman, a California Democrat. Traficant later said that he and Berman "haven't gotten along all that well."

He also blasted the committee for not subpoenaing all 12 of the witnesses he had wanted to appear on his behalf. Most of his requests for subpoenas were denied because the committee thought the witnesses were either irrelevant or repetitive.

Members of the subcommittee briefly questioned the ethics committee lawyers. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, a Madison Republican who is one of Traficant's closest friends in Congress, asked several questions that seemed designed to poke holes in the prosecution's case.

Addressing charges that Traficant accepted excessive amounts of money for his boat from Cafaro, LaTourette inquired about whether it was possible that Cafaro actually paid the fair market value.

After the hearing, LaTourette shrugged off suggestions that his friendship with Traficant created the perception that he was biased.

"I really don't want to talk about perceptions," LaTourette said. "People have sat and judged people they don't like, so I don't think it means I am being automatically disqualified because I'm fond of people."

Traficant said on C-SPAN today that he loves LaTourette and that his friend is just "trying to give me a fair shot."

Despite Traficant's acknowledgment that he is prepared to be expelled and go to jail, he said he remained optimistic.

"If they put me in jail in Ohio, I just might be the first American to win a congressional seat when incarcerated," said Traficant.

XContributor: David Enrich, States News Service.


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