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By PATRICIA MEADE



Published: Wed, July 31, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

CLEVELAND -- It was one hell of a wake-up call.

That's the way Paul P. Marcone described how quickly James A. Traficant Jr. went from expelled congressman "fighting the bogeyman government" to just another inmate in the federal prison system.

Until November 2000, Marcone had been Traficant's longtime chief of staff/press secretary in Washington, D.C.

"If he would have plea-bargained, he would have gotten one year in prison and two years' probation," Marcone said. "He thought he could wing it and wow the jury."

As of 1 p.m. today, Traficant will have been in federal custody 24 hours -- which leaves him with 70,056 hours -- eight years -- left to serve.

Request rejected

The 61-year-old Poland man's request to stay out of prison pending appeal or "a reasonable amount of time to report" to prison was rejected Tuesday afternoon by U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells.

"No. You're remanded now, sir. This honorable court is adjourned," the judge said.

The always caustic Traficant, his face registering shock, hunched his 6-foot-2-inch frame forward and shoved his hands behind his back to be handcuffed. U.S. marshals whisked him to the basement of the courthouse for processing.

He was then taken to Summit County Jail in Akron, where he would stay only a day or so.

Until the Bureau of Prisons finds a facility, he will likely be temporarily housed at the Federal Correctional Institution in Milan, Mich.

Violated bond

In remanding Traficant to custody, Judge Wells concluded that he violated conditions of his bond by traveling to western Pennsylvania last week to interview a prosecution witness. She also noted that he threatened FBI agents and threatened police officers who stopped him on suspicion of driving under the influence.

"You take it all very lightly, but we don't," Judge Wells said of his bond violations.

Craig S. Morford, an assistant U.S. attorney, pushed for immediate incarceration and, afterward, said the judge made the right decision.

In April, a jury found Traficant guilty of 10 counts, including racketeering, bribery, obstruction of justice and tax evasion. A few jurors attended the sentencing.

The judge ordered that Traficant pay a $150,000 fine, which covers the cost of his incarceration; a $96,000 forfeiture the jury imposed; and $19,580 in unpaid taxes. Once out of prison, he faces three years of supervised release.

Last moment

Marcone, speaking from his Virginia home Tuesday night, said Traficant's "last moment in the sun" was Monday, when he made the rounds of national TV news programs. Traficant repeated his theme -- that he was railroaded and will prevail in November's election to recapture the 17th District seat he was forced to vacate.

Traficant boasted in his TV appearances that he's ahead in the polls and can do a better job from prison than most of the members of Congress.

"This is one hell of a wake-up call, when that cell door slams," Marcone said. "He's just a number now. He's going to do 71/2 hours of labor each day and watching TV with the rest of the huge prison population."

Marcone said he really wasn't surprised that the judge sent Traficant away immediately, given his behavior in her court.

The 10-week trial included daily shouting matches, with Traficant teeing off on the judge and prosecution team. He accused prosecutors of intimidating witnesses and the judge of not allowing him to defend himself.

Marcone said Traficant's displays in court were embarrassing. He feels numb because he believed in Traficant.

Judge hits hard

Judge Wells hit Traficant hard, touching on his trial and behavior in and out of court.

"The jurors in their 10-count verdict in this case stripped from you your pretensions of honor and integrity," the soft-spoken judge said. "I've got to say it is too bad that you never served in the military for the United States, because there you might have learned something about duty and honor and, yes, even reverence towards this democracy, which is the greatest of all democracies, the United States."

Traficant was defiant and belligerent to the end. "I committed no crimes. I regret nothing that I said."

Judge Wells said he shamelessly abused the public trust and tarnished Congress and sullied the reputations and the beliefs of countless decent people. "You show open contempt and disloyalty to the individuals and the institutions that you were sworn to serve, and you did all of that from the position of United States congressman."

Traficant constantly interrupted her.

"All of your lewd and rude and obscene bullying stuff gets you attention," she said. "It's, maybe, you beg for the attention. I don't know. You seem to need the attention."

The judge said his attacks on the government are the drumbeat of the big lie.

"Some people believe you across this country because you've got shock and entertainment value," she said. "Some people believe you because they have their own selfish and even hostile reasons to exploit the kind of treacherous howling that you do when you complain about being a victim."

The judge referred to one of Traficant's favorite catch phrases, that he would fight like a junkyard dog. She said he fought to protect a junkyard full of deceit and corruption and greed.

A sad event

Last week, Congress, in a 420-1 vote, expelled Traficant. Marcone called his former boss's performances before the House ethics committee and full House pathetic. He said it was sad to see a career end in a rambling, disjointed way.

Marcone said he feels sorry for Traficant's wife, Tish. The ex-congressman, to pay his fines, may have to sell his house and horse farm in Greenford, Marcone said.

The former chief of staff also questioned Traficant's mental state, saying he has behaved like a 12-year-old boy.

Juror Jeri A. Zimmerman attended the sentencing and said afterward that she was surprised at Traficant's continual screaming at Judge Wells.

Of the outcome, Zimmerman said, "He did it to himself."

It's not unusual for defendants to be taken the day of sentencing, said Lewis R. Katz, law professor at Case Western Reserve University. He said it's not likely the court of appeals will reverse the trial judge's decision and let Traficant out on bond, pending appeal.

"He's foxy, but he's not smart," Katz told The Vindicator. "He knew [the judge] would send him to prison. He wasn't addressing the judge -- he was addressing you folks."

A longtime friend

The Rev. Lonnie Simon of Campbell offered this comment: "I regret that Traficant had to be sentenced for eight years, immediately. I feel the judge could have given him two or three weeks to get his affairs in order. However, Jim brought all of this upon himself."

Simon said he was a character witness at Traficant's first bribery trial in 1983, when he served as Mahoning County sheriff.

"I told him that he needed to stop being so vulgar. Even though he won that case, he didn't change. He should have known that the feds were out to get him. He didn't protect himself. I pray that he will not blame anybody but himself, and that from this situation he will learn humility. If I could speak to Jim, I would say to him, 'Jim, it's time for you to change.'"

meade@vindy.com




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