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Go-between says Bucheit broke promise



Published: Wed, April 23, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Former congressional staffers were scheduled to testify today.

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

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

CLEVELAND -- Leo A. Jennings Jr. says he sought out a Cleveland mobster to threaten a contractor who reneged on a deal to pay him $100,000 if former U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. settled a costly dispute the contractor had in Saudi Arabia.

Jennings' testimony came Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in the bribery-perjury trial of Bernard J. Bucheit, whose now-defunct construction company, Bucheit International of Boardman, did work in the Middle East in the early 1990s.

Bucheit, in grand jury testimony, denied that he used Jennings to persuade Traficant, now in prison, to negotiate a settlement with the Saudi government for the $11.5 million owed.

Bucheit, 70, of West Palm Beach, Fla., is accused of providing roughly $30,000 worth of repairs and new construction at Traficant's horse farm in Greenford within four months of the December 1992 Saudi settlement.

Bucheit is also charged with lying about the arrangement to the grand jury that investigated Traficant for accepting gratuities in return for official acts.

The trial resumed this morning with the government set to call former Traficant staffers from Washington, D.C., who worked on the Bucheit-Saudi settlement. The witness list included Paul P. Marcone, former chief of staff.

Jennings' background

On Tuesday, before Jennings laid out his part in the Saudi settlement, the government had the 68-year-old Canfield man acknowledge his mob connections and career as a bookmaker. Jennings now works part time at Salem Hills Golf Course.

Jennings said he worked at Union Distributors, a family-owned beer and wine distribution company, until 1982, when it was sold. He said he'd been convicted in Trumbull County in the 1980s of rolling back odometers and received one year's probation.

He'd also been a gambler and sports bookmaker for 20 years -- up until 1980.

Bernard A. Smith, assistant U.S. attorney, asked if that was illegal conduct.

"That is correct," Jennings answered.

Bucheit's Cleveland attorney, Roger G. Synenberg, suggested that Jennings was proud of his mob connections to Lenny Strollo (Youngstown mafia), Charlie O'Nesti (longtime Traficant district director) and Jack (John) Scalish (Cleveland mob).

Jennings hesitated only a second before answering: "They're my friends. They were my friends."

Web sites on organized crime list John Scalish as a Cleveland mob boss who died after surgery in 1976.

Synenberg asked Jennings if he'd gone to Jack Scalish, "head of the Cleveland mob," to send someone to threaten Bucheit to pay the $100,000. "True," Jennings answered.

The threat

Jennings said he contacted Scalish when Bucheit reneged on their deal. Jennings said he wanted the money any way he could get it -- "if [someone] had to beat him up, whatever."

Bucheit reported the threat to police, who showed up at Jennings' house.

Synenberg asked if Jennings lied to the police about the threat. Jennings said he didn't lie because he didn't personally threaten Bucheit.

Jennings explained how he got involved with the Saudi settlement by saying that his daughter worked in Traficant's office in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Jennings said he'd been friends with Bucheit and Traficant for many years.

When Bucheit complained that Traficant didn't want to be bothered with the Saudi dispute, Jennings said he offered to help. He said Bucheit promised $100,000 but paid only $3,000 after the undisclosed settlement was reached.

A Florida congressman and Frank Sinatra were among those Jennings said were contacted to intercede on Bucheit's behalf -- Sinatra because the singer "was tied in politically." Jennings said he also talked to mall developer Edward J. DeBartolo, who contacted then-Ohio Sen. John Glenn.

Jennings said he traveled more than a dozen times with Bucheit to Washington to visit Traficant, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Saudi Embassy.

Jennings said he also traveled with Bucheit to Kuwait, after the Gulf War in 1991, to help Bucheit explore the possibility of a contract to collect "lakes" of oil on the desert that formed during the war. The contract never materialized.

Synenberg asked Jennings what kind of agreement for immunity from prosecution he had with the government in return for his testimony. Jennings said he had no immunity agreement.

"Why aren't you sitting over there," Synenberg said, pointing to his client, "instead of Mr. Bucheit?"

The lawyer suggested that Jennings had entered into an illegal conspiracy with Traficant.

"I have no answer," Jennings said.

Synenberg asked if Jennings knew of any illegal acts Bucheit did for Traficant. Jennings said he didn't.

Explanation

Synenberg told the jury in his opening statement that Bucheit "got stiffed" by Traficant, who never paid the bill for work done at the farm.

The lawyer said Bucheit did what any constituent would do -- he sought out his congressman because he needed help overseas.

The lawyer said everyone now knows that Traficant was corrupt but no one knew that in the early 1990s.

The government countered that Bucheit never intended to collect the bill.

Also Tuesday, the jury heard from David M. Manevich of Austintown, a carpenter who did work at Traficant's horse farm from April to October 1993.

Manevich said he was paid $26,994 by Bucheit, not Traficant, for the deck and railing, privacy fence and two-story addition with sliding doors and vinyl siding.

Thomas R. Passewitz of Austintown testified about the electrical work he did at the farm in the summer and fall of 1993 while employed by Aey Electric. He said he was paid by his employer, not Traficant, and estimated the cost at several thousand dollars.

Karl Reiner of Clifton, Va., retired from the U.S. Department of Commerce, testified to his part in the Saudi settlement with Bucheit.

He said Jennings struck him as a consultant, a politically astute person, who took part in some of the meetings, who "orchestrated the whole thing."

Reiner said Traficant's methods of "ratcheting up" the pressure on the Saudis -- such as his one-minute speeches on the House floor -- were effective.

Reiner said the Bucheit settlement, which included some help from Glenn, had a confidentiality clause, so the amount was not disclosed. The former government official said Bucheit's dispute was one of 18 resolved between U.S. businesses and the Saudi government.

Bucheit's grand jury testimony was repeated in court, with Matthew B. Kall, a federal prosecutor, reading the questions, and FBI Special Agent Michael Pikunas reading the answers Bucheit gave. The testimony was given Aug. 15, 2000; Bucheit was indicted in January 2001.

Bucheit told the grand jury that he thought of Traficant as an honest man who would eventually pay the farm construction bill. Bucheit said he would have knocked $5,000 off the bill if Traficant had asked.

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




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