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TRAFICANT HEARING Morford pressured me to lie, co-defendant says



Published: Wed, July 17, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The congressman's indicted co-defendant testified until almost midnight.

By PATRICIA MEADE

and DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON -- A House ethics subcommittee was expected to decide today whether some -- or everyone -- who testified against U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. lied to save themselves or whether the convicted congressman really is corrupt.

After a marathon session that ended about 11:57 p.m. Tuesday, the subcommittee was to reconvene today at 10 a.m. Traficant, a Poland Democrat, planned to wrap up his defense, which included testimony Tuesday from four witnesses -- a paid congressional staffer, his former horse trainer, a private investigator and one of his co-defendants.

Traficant said he has audiotapes and affidavits to introduce as evidence. The congressman and prosecutors would then give closing arguments.

Committee chairman Joel Hefley, a Colorado Springs, Colo., Republican, wants to end the hearing today with a vote by the eight-member panel. The maximum penalty Traficant faces is expulsion, which requires a two-thirds votes of the full House.

Gov. Bob Taft has said he would consider holding a special election to fill the seat if Traficant is kicked out of office.

Traficant, 61, has served in the House for nine terms. He has filed to run as an independent in the November election. Even if he is expelled, he could still seek re-election.

Mirrors trial

The ethics hearing is a fast-paced version of Traficant's 10-week federal racketeering trial in Cleveland. A jury found him guilty in April, and sentencing is July 30.

The ethics charges mirror the 10 federal counts that include bribery, obstruction of justice and tax evasion.

Traficant maintains that the key witnesses in his federal trial, who had legal troubles of their own, were all coerced by prosecutors into cooperating with the government. The congressman's theory was fortified with the surprise testimony of Richard E. Detore, now under indictment and charged with taking part in a bribery scheme with J.J. Cafaro of Liberty.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Detore, a Virginia engineer, appeared before the panel without immunity. Anything he said can be used against him when his case goes to trial Nov. 12.

Committee counsel had said Monday that Detore had planned to invoke his Fifth Amendment right and because of that, they excused him as a witness. Traficant had vehemently disputed that claim, saying Detore had discussed invoking his Fifth Amendment right but had made no final decision.

Detore's testimony, interrupted by two breaks for House appropriations votes, lasted until almost midnight. He said he was there against the advice of his physician.

Urged to testify

Detore said that part of the reason he decided to testify was that he was inundated with phone calls and visitors to his house. He said he was getting phone calls every five minutes urging him to testify.

Detore, who once worked for Cafaro's USAerospace Group in Virginia, told the ethics panel that he was threatened by Craig S. Morford, an assistant U.S. attorney. Morford served as lead prosecutor in the federal trial.

"They absolutely wanted me to lie," Detore said.

To some observers, Detore's testimony seemed to lend credence to Traficant's assertions that the government was trying to persecute the congressman at all costs.

Members of the committee seemed impressed and alarmed by Detore's testimony.

Detore said he and Traficant did nothing wrong but added that he knew nothing about what went on "in Ohio."

The committee had been given a transcript of a phone conversation Traficant secretly taped with Detore.

Throughout the taped conversation, Detore laments that he did nothing wrong and complains about being threatened with an IRS audit and encouraged by Morford and others to lie or be indicted as a co-conspirator. He talks about being at the breaking point and blowing his head off.

Traficant repeatedly asks leading questions, such as: "Yeah, but the bottom line is Morford let you know in no uncertain terms if you lied your problems would all go away and if you didn't, boy, you were going to end up in jail?"

Detore answered "Yes."

Call Cafaro a liar

In the transcript, Traficant and Detore repeatedly refer to Cafaro as a liar.

Judge Wells would not permit the audiotape at Traficant's trial and called it "self-serving."

Detore frequently criticized the Cafaro Co., and J.J. Cafaro in particular, for not being truthful with him regarding his employment with USAG. Detore said he was promised a $240,000 annual salary, but received $50,000 less than that. He also said he had no authority at the company and his title of chief operating officer was meaningless.

Detore had filed a civil suit against Cafaro but dropped it because Morford told him it would undermine the government's case against Traficant if two prosecution witnesses were suing each other. Detore said he made a mistake by dropping the case and has since filed another civil suit against Cafaro.

Detore said USAG was getting federal contracts and putting the funds into a Cafaro Co. account.

"I felt the Cafaros were expending huge amounts of money against USAerospace that USAerospace wasn't spending," he said.

The congressman, on the tape, said Cafaro committed perjury during the 1997 racketeering trial of Phil Chance, Mahoning County sheriff at the time. At Traficant's trial, Cafaro admitted that he lied under oath at the Chance trial.

At Tuesday's hearing, in drawn-out responses to questions posed by Traficant, Detore repeatedly characterized Cafaro as a liar. Cafaro has pleaded guilty to bribing Traficant with $40,000 in cash, gifts and boat repairs in return for the congressman's promoting USAG's laser-guidance system with the Federal Aviation Administration.

The ethics subcommittee had questions about dinners Detore and Traficant had at the Taverna in Washington, D.C., from April 1998 through December 1999. USAG paid $3,219 for the meals.

Detore has gone through three sets of lawyers since named in Traficant's superseding indictment Oct. 26, 2001. The Virginia man is lawyer shopping again.

U.S. Rep. Steven LaTourette, a Traficant friend and a subcommittee member, said the panel didn't have the opportunity to see the trial witnesses, as the jury in Cleveland did.

Reaction to Detore testimony

LaTourette, a Madison Republican, said it was "stupid" for Detore to testify in front of the subcommittee when he has an upcoming federal trial, but that his testimony was "rather remarkable."

Hefley said of Detore: "This witness has been a very good witness to make the case for government misconduct in his eyes."

U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, a Lucasville Democrat who sat through most of Detore's testimony, said he still would vote to expel Traficant.

"Even if [Detore's] accusations regarding heavy-handed behavior on the part of the investigators [are true], I don't know that that in any substantial way has an impact on the other accusations against Mr. Traficant," he said.

Strickland said he would be "surprised" if the committee rules that Traficant is innocent of the 10 counts.

"The fact remains that in a court of law, he was found guilty of 10 different charges," he said. "I don't know that anything that happened or has been said changes that fact."

Hefley has given Traficant great latitude in his line of questioning and his statements to the subcommittee given as sworn testimony. Traficant did not take the witness stand in Cleveland in his own defense.

"I have felt that he needs to have the leeway to put on the best defense he thinks he can put on," Hefley told reporters. "I don't think it will work, but I would like for him to go away from here feeling, however it comes out, that it's fair, that he's had a fair opportunity."

Traficant still must overcome some major obstacles as the hearing enters its final day.

Several panel members -- including LaTourette and U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a Cleveland Democrat -- observed that the jury in the criminal trial apparently had deemed the prosecution's witnesses to be credible. They said that undermines Traficant's argument that the committee members should not trust the witnesses in his federal trial.

"I guess this is all moot because we have the convictions here," said U.S. Rep. Gene Green, a Texas Democrat, who serves on the ethics subcommittee.

Usual antics

Even as Traficant seemed to be gaining some momentum Tuesday, his antics continued.

Traficant warned an ethics committee lawyer that he might kick him "in the crotch." He called Green a "chicken" because he did not question Traficant.

As Traficant rambled on when the committee's lawyers were cross-examining him, one of the lawyers, Paul Lewis, pleaded for Hefley to intervene.

"I'm trying to waste time here, chairman," Traficant blurted when Hefley tried to get him to stop talking.

"I realize that," Hefley said with a sigh.

Also testifying for Traficant was Linda Kovachik, a Traficant staffer who denied that any of the congressman's employees had ever given him kickbacks.

Sandy Ferrante, a horse trainer who worked for years for Traficant, testified that the congressman's staff members worked at the farm but were not forced to do the work.

Also, Michael L. Robertson, a former Secret Service agent, testified about the lack of physical evidence tying Traficant to any of the crimes. He admitted that his testimony was based on hypothesis and during Traficant's federal trial, admitted his testimony was irrelevant to the case.

XContributor: David Enrich, States News Service.




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