Traficant's campaign treasurer would not allow The Vindicator to check receipts submitted by the former congressman to his campaign.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- After his conviction, James A. Traficant Jr. hired five congressional staffers -- including his subpoena server -- and paid a character witness as a campaign consultant, records show.
Guilty of corruption and tax crimes, Traficant, 61, of Poland began serving an eight-year prison sentence July 30. He is running as an independent in the Nov. 5 general election for the 17th District seat he once held in the U.S. House of Representatives.
After the trial ended April 11, Traficant hired his character witness as a campaign consultant.
The campaign paid Robert E. Saffold of Shaker Heights, formerly of Warren, a $500 consultant fee on May 7 and reimbursed him $375 on June 27 for cell phone calls.
Saffold said he coordinated the effort to gather signatures to get Traficant on the ballot as an independent, and had to pay some of the people who actually circulated the petitions.
He said the campaign still owes him another $500 for his consulting services.
Consultant claim denied
Saffold testified at trial that he had been a paid consultant in 1984 for Lyle Williams, who lost his re-election bid that year to Traficant for the 17th District seat.
However, Williams said that Saffold was never his paid consultant and had no role in the 1984 campaign. Williams described Saffold as someone always on the political scene who uses lots of titles and name-drops.
Williams is executive director of the National Subacute Care Association in Washington, D.C.
Saffold also testified that he serves as a consultant with the Ohio Athletic Commission. Paul Amodio, executive director of the commission on Belmont Avenue, said Saffold is a good friend of boxing but does not serve as a consultant or in any other capacity with the commission.
Saffold said in court that he runs Nazareth Missions drug, alcohol and prison counseling. No listing could be found for the mission.
He also described himself as president of the Ohio Minority Contractors Association and said he has been a registered lobbyist in Columbus since 1975.
No listing could be found for the contractors association, either. Saffold said he runs it out of his home in Shaker Heights.
His years as a lobbyist didn't jibe with the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee in Columbus. A spokesman there said Saffold first registered as a lobbyist in 1997.
Talked about himself
Saffold, who volunteered to be a character witness for Traficant, spoke at great length about himself in court -- so much so that U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells had to remind him why he was on the witness stand. "This is helpful evidence about you, sir, but we need to have evidence about this man [Traficant]," she said.
Saffold, a former Warren firefighter and amateur boxer, testified that he'd first became aware of Traficant in the 1970s and heard "JT related to the brothers."
Saffold described Traficant in court as someone who's always been a champion of minorities. He said Traficant was honest, fair and objective.
Vindicator files show that Saffold made an unsuccessful run for Trumbull County commissioner in 1970.
In 1992, the Trumbull County elections board asked the prosecutor to investigate Saffold's past. The prosecutor determined that Saffold, who considered a bid for state representative, could hold public office because he had been convicted of a misdemeanor, not a felony.
Another trial participant
Saffold wasn't the only trial participant who continued on in some capacity with Traficant.
Michael J. Antonoff of Boardman, Traficant's subpoena server, described himself in court as a private investigator. Although called as a defense witness, Judge Wells did not permit the jury to hear Antonoff's claim that he had been stalked by someone who flashed what appeared to be an FBI badge.
Traficant wanted Antonoff to repeat what he wrote in an affidavit.
Antonoff alleged in the affidavit that someone in a car parked in front of his house took pictures. He said he followed the car and confronted the driver, who showed the badge and told him to back off.
Antonoff didn't get a license plate number or make and model of the car.
Traficant hired Antonoff as a staff representative on April 23, less than two weeks after the trial ended.
In addition to Antonoff, Traficant hired four more congressional staffers after his conviction: Lori Pesci (April 16); Edwin R. Berger (April 23); Ardis K. Brown (April 17); and James D. Wilkens (May 15). Until the 17th District seat is filled in January, the congressional staff is under management of the House Administration Committee.
Traficant said Brown was terminated in June but declined to say why.
Berger, a part-time staff representative, filed an affidavit with the court in July, saying he tagged along with Traficant and overheard a conversation Traficant had with a prosecution witness in Pennsylvania. The affidavit, which the judge gave no credence, was an attempt by Traficant to get a new trial, based on his contention that the government intimidated witnesses.
Wouldn't show receipts
The Vindicator, during a review of Traficant's campaign and taxpayer-funded office expenditures, requested an opportunity to check receipts Traficant submitted to his campaign. Campaign reports, minus receipts, are filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Robert Barrett, campaign treasurer, refused the newspaper's request. Barrett said the campaign has nothing to hide, but since he's not required to show the receipts to the press, he won't.
Without the receipts, there's no way to verify if Traficant's food and travel expenses were incurred for campaign-related activities.
The FEC requires that candidates' campaigns keep supporting documentation, such as receipts, said Kelly Huff, FEC spokesman in Washington. Candidates cannot use campaign money for personal needs, she said.
Should someone file a complaint with the FEC questioning Traficant's campaign expenditures, the FEC would launch an investigation and examine the supporting documentation, Huff said.
David All, spokesman for Ann Womer Benjamin, Republican candidate for the 17th District, said her campaign would have no problem making campaign expense records available to The Vindicator. "Absolutely not -- come right on over," All said.
Pat Lowry, spokesman for Tim Ryan, the Democratic candidate, gave a similar response. "We would certainly make whatever receipts you wanted available," Lowry said.