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Carpenter slated to testify in Traficant-related trial



Published: Tue, April 22, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Leo Jennings Jr., the defendant's onetime friend, will also testify.

& lt;a href=mailto:meade@vindy.com & gt;By PATRICIA MEADE & lt;/a & gt;

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

CLEVELAND -- A carpenter who did work at the horse farm owned by former U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. was to testify today in the bribery-perjury trial of retired contractor Bernard J. Bucheit.

The first jury to hear a trial in U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells' court at the new courthouse was sworn in at 4:10 p.m. Monday. It includes six men, six women and two alternates.

"I feel like I've been with you a week. This has been a long process," the judge said, commenting on the selection that took all day to eliminate 28 prospective jurors.

Weeded out in the process was an Indonesian woman who has lived in Warren for 12 years. She raved about how good a congressman Traficant had been and how much she liked him and admitted, when questioned, that she felt he had been treated unfairly.

Also eliminated was a prospective male juror who said that, since Traficant was found guilty of accepting free work at his horse farm, "someone, for sure, has to be guilty of giving it to him."

Bucheit's wife, RuthAnn, was in the gallery Monday, as she was for the final pretrial two weeks ago.

What was scheduled

Opening statements were set for this morning. The government is represented by Matthew B. Kall and Bernard A. Smith. Cleveland attorney Roger G. Synenberg represents Bucheit.

The prosecution was to call as its first witnesses David M. Manevich of Austintown and Robert J. Gatti Jr. of Hubbard. When Bucheit and his son needed a carpenter to do work at Traficant's horse farm, Gatti, who had worked for Bucheit, recommended Manevich.

Manevich and Gatti also testified for the prosecution at Traficant's trial. Manevich said he was paid by Bucheit, not Traficant.

Traficant's trial ended April 11, 2002, when the jury found him guilty of racketeering, bribery and tax evasion. The 61-year-old Poland man is serving an eight-year prison sentence.

Bucheit, who retired to Florida from Boardman, is charged with conspiracy to violate the federal bribery statute, giving an unlawful gratuity to a public official and perjury before a federal grand jury.

He is accused of absorbing the cost of the farm work -- about $30,000 -- in return for official favors from Traficant.

The government said Traficant engaged in numerous official acts to help Bucheit obtain an undisclosed settlement of the $11.5 million owed his company by a Saudi Arabian prince for construction work in the Middle East.

The government said Traficant also helped Bucheit contact officials regarding a business project in the Gaza Strip and with subsequent problems with the project.

Grand jury testimony

Bucheit, 70, testified at the grand jury investigating Traficant on Aug. 15, 2000. Some of the questions dealt with his relationship with Leo Jennings Jr., 68, of Austintown, who frequently drove him to Washington, D.C.

At the time, in the early 1990s, Jennings' daughter worked as a Traficant staffer. Jennings is expected to testify in Bucheit's trial.

At the grand jury, Bucheit, whose friends call him Pete, denied that he wanted Jennings to get Traficant more involved in settling the dispute Bucheit International had with the Saudis over the $11.5 million owed.

Jennings, who also testified at the grand jury Aug. 15, 2000, told The Vindicator afterward that the government asked if he knew of any exchange of money between Bucheit and Traficant.

Jennings said he answered that he didn't know if money changed hands.

Jennings said he told grand jurors that if it wasn't for him, Bucheit wouldn't have received any money back from the Saudis. Traficant had, at first, turned down Bucheit's request for help, Jennings said.

He interceded for Bucheit after a chance encounter they had at a Boardman restaurant. Jennings explained that he and Bucheit had attended Notre Dame University together.

Bucheit had wanted Jennings to enlist Traficant's help, which Jennings said he did. Jennings said he had been longtime friends with Traficant and Bucheit until the Saudi situation.

"Pete said he would take care of me, but didn't," Jennings told The Vindicator after his grand jury appearance. He declined to elaborate.

What Jennings said

Jennings said he made 13 trips to Washington, D.C., on Bucheit's behalf to meet with Traficant and Saudi officials. The Saudis wanted 20 fighter planes, which they wouldn't receive until they paid Bucheit, Jennings said of the deal.

Traficant helped, making speeches on the House floor, Jennings said.

When interviewed in February 2000, Bucheit told The Vindicator that he did not reward Traficant for the congressman's assistance.

"He was very helpful to us, he really was, in settling that," Bucheit said then from his Florida home. "He did his job, and he was happy to do it. ... He didn't ask for anything [for it], and I didn't give him anything."

Bucheit, who declined to discuss the terms of the Saudi settlement, said the only thing he'd done for the congressman was buy some tickets to a golf outing.

Absent from the government witness list read to the jury Monday was Bucheit's daughter, Leisel Bucheit of Virginia, who testified for the prosecution at Traficant's trial about her role in carpentry and electrical work done at Traficant's farm and paid for by her father's company.

Leisel Bucheit said she had no idea of the scope of the work. She issued checks to the carpenter, Manevich, and Aey Electric.

She recalled sending a bill to Traficant but had no idea if it was paid. She left the company in 1996.

& lt;a href=mailto:meade@vindy.com & gt;meade@vindy.com & lt;/a & gt;




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