TRAFICANT CASE Detore's testimony opens can of worms
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Richard E. Detore's unchallenged testimony before a U.S. House ethics subcommittee differs from what eyewitnesses swore under oath and jurors believed to convict U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr.
Detore, a Virginia resident, contends that those who have testified to his involvement in bribing Traficant are lying. The congressman, found guilty in April after a 10-week trial, has put forth the same argument -- witnesses lied -- and continues to protest his conviction.
The 61-year-old Poland Democrat faces expulsion Wednesday from the U.S. House. He will be sentenced next Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Cleveland on 10 counts, with the government asking for 87 months in prison, more if possible.
At trial in November, Detore will have the same witness lineup from the now-defunct USAerospace Group that testified for the prosecution at Traficant's trial -- including J.J. Cafaro and Albert Lange. Detore, who once served as USAG's chief operating officer, was fired by Cafaro.
Traficant cross-examined all the USAG witnesses at trial, with Detore declining to appear and jeopardizing his own case. The jury found Traficant guilty of the Cafaro bribery count.
Implicated in boat scheme
Cafaro and Lange implicated Detore in a scheme to conceal $26,000 in repairs to Traficant's boat. Lange said cover stories were devised to make it appear that he really wanted to restore and own the boat, which he didn't.
Detore denies such a scheme took place. He said Lange did want the boat and had bragged about how much money he would make once it was restored and sold.
Lange testified with immunity from prosecution; Cafaro testified according to terms of his plea agreement.
Leo Glaser, juror No. 8 in the Traficant trial, said Monday that Lange was very believable at trial. "He was just a middleman and didn't want involved in the boat deal."
Glaser, though, said that he found Detore's testimony at the ethics hearing last Wednesday in Washington, D.C., provided reasonable doubt. If, however, Detore had been cross-examined by Craig S. Morford, lead prosecutor in the Traficant trial, the answers may have taken away that reasonable doubt, Glaser said.
Paul Lewis, House ethics committee counsel, was not expecting Detore to testify last week and wasn't prepared to challenge Detore's testimony. Some committee members did ask pointed questions, such as how Detore could assert prosecutors said Janet Reno wanted to get Traficant when Reno was no longer the attorney general in 2001.
Key piece of testimony
A reporter asked Glaser if he could recall testimony from the Traficant trial that may have tilted one way or the other until balanced by cross-examination.
Glaser recalled a Traficant defense witness who used a chart and presented a hypothesis about how $2,500 considered monthly kickbacks for more than a year could have been explained away as something else perfectly legal.
"I thought, OK, here's something I can use as reasonable doubt, but when Morford got up there he produced contradictory things," Glaser said. "He blew that witness out of the water."
Detore's testimony before the subcommittee included an allegation that Morford wanted him to say he overheard Traficant and Cafaro discussing their bribery relationship, which included cash and gifts. Detore said the pressure to lie came during a nine-hour meeting attended by his lawyer at the time, John Nassikas, and that Nassikas let it happen.
Nassikas said Monday from his Washington, D.C., office that it would be inappropriate to comment at this time. Morford "categorically" denies the allegation.
U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, a Lucasville Democrat, sent a letter to the Justice Department on Monday asking that its office of professional responsibility investigate Detore's claims that Morford exhibited prosecutorial misconduct, John Haseley, Strickland's chief of staff, said.
Sticks with guilty verdict
Glaser said he remains firm on his guilty verdict in the Traficant case but does believe if the government is out to get someone, it will, and the government wanted Traficant.
The House should not expel Traficant, Glaser said. The voters should decide whether the congressman stays in office, he said.
In addition, Traficant should be sentenced to two years' probation with the first six months in house arrest, Glaser said. It's the same sentence handed down to the contractor who first came forward with bribery evidence against the congressman.
Glaser said his view that Detore's testimony at the ethics hearing was credible is nothing more than "Monday morning quarterbacking."
Cafaro's Cleveland lawyer, Geoffrey S. Mearns, assessed the situation differently.
"Because congressman Traficant's conduct was the focus of the [ethics] hearing last week, Detore's claims about Mr. Cafaro were never really challenged by counsel or the members of the subcommittee," Mearns said. "Once Detore's claims are assessed against the facts, and once his testimony is subject to cross-examination by someone who is fully familiar with those facts, Detore's stories will be revealed for what they truly are: a campaign of unfounded, self-serving allegations designed to divert attention from his own conduct that is the subject of the pending federal criminal charges."
Unspecified health problems
Detore's trial, meanwhile, had been set for July 29, then, based on claims of ill health, reset to Nov. 12. U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells has warned him that he cannot delay the trial again.
Detore, who has gone through four sets of lawyers, said he appeared at the ethics hearing against the advice of his physician. He still has no lawyer of record.
The government has filed a motion asking that Judge Wells order Detore to explain why he was unable to attend a pretrial July 2 and another July 9 in Cleveland for medical reasons yet was able to provide "false and self-serving" testimony in Washington. The government wants to know exactly what ails Detore.
Detore said the government motion is retaliation because he went to the ethics committee and told the truth.
He testified in Washington that he has spent more than $450,000 in attorney fees, with outstanding bills of an additional $150,000. Among the fees was $80,000 to Lawrence Huntsman, a Virginia attorney.
Huntsman represented Detore in a breach-of-contract lawsuit against Cafaro, for which Detore failed to pay Huntsman $86,000 in attorney fees. Huntsman has filed a lien seeking the attorney fees, records show.
Glaser found the lien interesting, having received a different impression from Detore's testimony about what he has paid in legal fees.
Detore also told the ethics committee that the government offered him immunity, then reneged and indicted him last October when he wouldn't say what Morford wanted.
Court papers show the following sequence of events:
In August 2000, the government informed Detore that Traficant's relationship with USAG was under investigation and Detore agreed to cooperate by providing a written statement, called a proffer. Huntsman represented Detore.
The terms of the proffer provided that Detore's statements could not be used directly against him but the government could make derivative use of the statements and follow investigative leads. The proffer was not immunity.
The proffer described Detore's "supposed recollection" of certain events, the government said. In February 2001, the government notified Huntsman that it suspected Detore was being untruthful.
In March 2001, Detore was interviewed by federal prosecutors in the presence of Huntsman. Afterward, the government informed Huntsman that, based on documents and information from other sources, and because of Detore's inability to provide credible explanations for his conduct, he was a target and an indictment would be sought.
Informed of indictment
On June 6, 2001, Nassikas informed the government that he would represent Detore. The government advised Nassikas that it intended to indict Detore and set up terms for a meeting June 25, 2001.
After the meeting, the government told Nassikas that it was unwilling to grant immunity to Detore and intended to seek an indictment.
Plea negotiations ceased in late July 2001, the government said.
On Aug. 6, 2001, Plato Cacheris, another Washington lawyer, stepped in to represent Detore and was informed that the government intended to seek an indictment.
At all times, Detore was aware he would be indicted and had not received immunity, the government said.
His fourth Washington lawyer, John Dowd, dropped out because of nonpayment, Detore told the ethics committee, saying he owed Dowd $239,000.