The congressman has accused the judge in his case of judicial misconduct for her husband's connection to J.J. Cafaro.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
During a U.S. House ethics subcommittee hearing that could lead to his expulsion from Congress, U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. has maintained the matter is a case of judicial misconduct and a perfect example of how U.S. District Court Judge Lesley Brooks Wells, who oversaw his case and will sentence him July 30, was against him from the start.
Judge Wells' husband is a partner at the Cleveland law firm of Squire, Sanders and Dempsey. The law firm performed legal work on behalf of USAerospace Group, which was owned by Cafaro, to obtain laser guidance patents for the Virginia company, according to Geoffrey S. Mearns, Cafaro's attorney.
Cafaro pleaded guilty to paying off Traficant in exchange for the congressman's assistance regarding USAG, and testified against Traficant at the corruption trial.
Mearns said his client asked him to respond to the allegations of impropriety, which he says are "totally unfounded."
Mearns acknowledges he was well aware of a potential conflict of interest in having Judge Wells handle Cafaro's case, but said there was no conflict in having Cafaro testify in the judge's court during the Traficant trial.
Cases assigned to Wells
Traficant was indicted May 4, 2001, and the case was randomly assigned to Judge Wells. That same day, the government filed a criminal information against Cafaro and his case was randomly assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Solomon Oliver. Because Cafaro's case was related to Traficant, the government filed a motion to have the case transferred to Judge Wells.
Mearns said he and federal prosecutors were informed four days later by Judge Wells that because of her husband's affiliation with Squire, Sanders and Dempsey, she would recuse herself from handling Cafaro's case.
Mearns said he then filed a motion opposing the government's request to transfer Cafaro's case to Judge Wells "to avoid anyone questioning the propriety" of having the judge determine Cafaro's sentence. Judge Oliver ruled that he would have jurisdiction over Cafaro's case.
Traficant and Richard E. Detore, the congressman's co-defendant and a former USAG chief operating officer, took several shots at The Cafaro Co., and in particular at J.J. Cafaro, during the House ethics subcommittee hearing. Detore was indicted on a charge of taking part in the scheme to bribe Traficant with Cafaro.
Accusations against Cafaro
Traficant and Detore, the congressman's key witness at the hearing, repeatedly referred to Cafaro as a liar and a deceitful person. They also took shots at members of Cafaro's family. The Cafaro Co., in a statement Wednesday, said Detore made "blatantly false statements" about the company during his testimony.
Detore said The Cafaro Co. lied to him about his job, USAG, and his authority at the company. He also said he was promised a $240,000 annual salary but actually received $190,000.
Detore had filed a civil suit against Cafaro, but dropped it because assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Morford, who prosecuted Traficant, told him it would undermine the government's case if two prosecution witnesses were suing each other.
Detore also accused Morford of pressuring him to lie about Traficant and said that when he refused to cooperate, he was threatened by the prosecutor with an indictment, which occurred, and an IRS audit.