By Patricia Meade
YOUNGSTOWN — Jimbo’s coming home.
On March 9, ex-congressman James A. Traficant Jr., called Jimbo by friends and foes alike, will report to Community Corrections Association, a halfway facility on Market Street. The 67-year-old convicted felon’s eight-year federal prison sentence expires Sept. 2, 2009, and then he’ll serve three years’ supervised release.
In April 2002, a jury in Cleveland found the nine-term Democratic congressman guilty of all 10 counts he faced — including racketeering, bribery, obstruction of justice and tax evasion. The jury, after a 10-week trial, believed that he took kickbacks from high-level staffers, used other staffers as farmhands on federal time, accepted cash gifts and services from businessmen, cheated on his taxes and tried to influence witnesses.
The U.S. House of Representatives, using the trial transcript, found “clear and convincing evidence” that he broke House rules. The vote was 420-1 to expel him July 24, 2002, a week before he was sentenced.
Traficant is incarcerated at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minn., but why has not been made public. The prison houses inmates with health or psychological problems. He took up painting to pass the time, crafting mostly horses and barns.
Richard J. Billak, CCA chief executive officer, said the Bureau of Prisons called Monday, asking if his facility would accept a “high-profile” placement. He said sure.
CCA has a 28-bed area for federal inmates, generally two to three to a room. An adjoining common room, or lounge, has two phones and a TV that isn’t turned on until after dinner.
Inmates have house assignments such as cleaning the laundry room and bathroom, vacuuming and washing dishes, Billak said. They don’t cook meals; everything from cheeseburgers to pizza to chicken are served. No alcohol is permitted.
Before the end of a 14-day medical assessment and orientation period, Traficant must find a full-time job approved by CCA. A vocational specialist at CCA can help in the employment search.
Billak said the Bureau of Prisons may impose special conditions for employment but that won’t be known until closer to Traficant’s arrival date. He said Traficant has a lot of friends, some of whom may offer him a job.
Could he be a greeter at Wal-Mart? Sure, Billak said, any legitimate employment is acceptable. CCA staff will visit his employer to verify that it is legitimate work, and he must turn his paychecks over to CCA, which keeps 25 percent for his room and board.
Traficant, who will be permitted to drive himself to work, must first reapply for a driver’s license, Billak said.
If Traficant stays problem free at CCA for three months, he will transfer to home confinement for the final three months. If he violates any conditions imposed on him by CCA or the Bureau of Prisons, he will be returned to federal prison, Billak said. The conditions include getting and keeping a job, no insubordination and clean urine — free of drugs and alcohol.
Traficant will be given a urine test every day that he returns to CCA after work, Billak said.
Traficant, of Poland, can go home for visits, three to six hours at a time on weekends, within his first month. After that, the time extends to six to nine hours on Saturdays and Sundays for the next two months.
He’s not allowed to ride around town. CCA will make several random calls to his home while he’s there to check on him, Billak said.
He’s not allowed to be around other felons — no one on probation or parole, Billak said.
Before sentencing 6 1/2 years ago, prosecutors, citing “extensive, pervasive and systematic corruption of his office,” asked Judge Lesley Brooks Wells to give Traficant 87 months or more in prison.
“The jurors in their 10-count verdict in this case stripped from you your pretensions of honor and integrity,” Judge Wells said when she sentenced him. “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 in court that Traficant 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 the judge. He appeared not to understand that a judge’s assessment of a defendant is part of the sentencing.
“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.
Judge Wells ordered that Traficant pay a $96,000 forfeiture (derived from a staffer’s kickbacks, cash bribes, gifts and services in the racketeering count) and a $150,000 fine. His unpaid taxes amounted to $19,580.