A priest and nun wrote letters of support to the judge.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
CLEVELAND -- A lawyer who kicked back part of his congressional salary because he felt "beholden" to James A. Traficant Jr. for the job won't spend one day in prison for lying to a grand jury about the arrangement.
Henry A. DiBlasio, 72, of Singer Island, Fla., formerly of Boardman, was sentenced Thursday afternoon in U.S. District Court to four years' probation, with the first six months under house arrest. He had pleaded guilty June 25 to perjury.
U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells also fined DiBlasio $20,000. She said giving him the maximum fine made her feel more comfortable with the sentence of probation only.
The sentencing range was six to 12 months in prison and, at that level, made DiBlasio eligible for probation or home confinement. His Cleveland lawyer, James M. Kersey, citing his client's array of health problems and bad heart, asked for home detention.
DiBlasio sat quietly at the defense table, leaning on his cane. His wife and son, a doctor, sat in the gallery.
Matthew B. Kall, an assistant U.S. attorney, said the government didn't question the accuracy of DiBlasio's medical records. The federal prosecutor left it up to the court's discretion whether to grant Kersey's request.
The judge, saying she wanted to make sure DiBlasio had accepted responsibility, read what he told a probation officer.
DiBlasio, in the report, said he would, from time to time, give part of his salary to Traficant by placing the cash in an envelope and slipping it under the office door "or permit him to use my credit card." The lawyer said he felt beholden to the congressman for his job and "he seemed to be in dire need of money."
The amount of kickbacks was not disclosed.
"I do accept responsibility," DiBlasio told the judge. "I'm certainly not proud of it. I've never been in trouble in my life."
Traficant served as 17th District congressman from 1985 through July 24, when the House expelled him. The 61-year-old Poland man, convicted of racketeering, bribery and tax evasion, is serving an eight-year sentence in a federal prison in central Pennsylvania.
DiBlasio was Traficant's administrative assistant from January 1985 through December 1998. This staff position was the highest-paid, and testimony has shown that DiBlasio did little work for the pay and maintained his law practice full time.
DiBlasio had invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify as a defense witness at Traficant's trial. The 10-week trial ended April 11 with Traficant convicted on 10 counts.
The government proved at trial that DiBlasio met in November 1998 with Boardman attorney R. Allen Sinclair and acknowledged that DiBlasio had diverted a portion of his salary to Traficant and explained the kickback procedure. Sinclair, hired then as administrative counsel, was to cash his check each month, put $2,500 in an envelope and slip it under the door at 11 Overhill Road in Boardman, once a Traficant district office rented from DiBlasio, then from Sinclair's wife.
Sinclair's kickbacks to Traficant began in December 1998 and continued until early January 2000. Sinclair, who testified for the prosecution at Traficant's trial, was not charged.
DiBlasio, meanwhile, falsely told the grand jury that he would convert his federal paychecks to cash and spend the money. He said he spent $600 to $800 each month on lottery tickets.
Judge Wells said for DiBlasio, as a lawyer, to give kickbacks from a taxpayer-paid salary then lie about it to a grand jury undermines the justice system.
In a "real sense," the judge said, his victims were the residents of Youngstown and northeast Ohio. The grand jury was investigating corruption, not purse snatching, she said.
Letters of support
Judge Wells received a few letters of support on DiBlasio's behalf. The letters were included in a thick binder Kersey prepared that details all his client's ailments.
One came from the Rev. Richard R. Madden at the Carmelite Fathers on Volney Road and one from Sister Teresina Rosa at Villa Maria Teresa, Oblate Order, on Warner Road, where DiBlasio served on the board of directors.
DiBlasio, the priest wrote, had been one of his parishioners for more than 30 years. "I can't understand how all this has happened. All I know is that he is a good man who has done much good for others," the letter reads.
The nun wrote that since DiBlasio has a heart condition, "we implore you not to risk incarceration." She said he reared a fine family and always found time and energy to help others.
"We support him and pray for him. We urge this honorable court to grant him as much mercy as you can," Sister Rosa wrote.
Two lawyers, John Masternick of Girard, and Alan J. Matavich of Boardman, also wrote letters.
DiBlasio had no comment after court. Kersey, who included Vindicator feature stories about DiBlasio in the binder he prepared for the court to show his client's good points, said he had no comment for The Vindicator.