The former congressman will get a hero’s welcome home.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN — When former U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. of Poland is released from federal prison Sept. 2 after seven years and one month of incarceration, he’ll get a rousing welcome home.
“We need to tell this guy: ‘We still love you, Jim,’” said Linda Kovachik of Boardman, who was an aide in the 17th District congressman’s Boardman and Youngstown offices.
On the day of Traficant’s scheduled release, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers minor-league baseball team will observe Traficant Release Night at its 7:05 p.m. home game against the Jamestown Jammers at Eastwood Field in Niles.
“That’ll be the theme of the game. ... It’s not a huge celebration. We’re just going to recognize the release,” said Jordan Taylor, the team’s assistant general manager.
The observance will be announced over the public address system, and the team expects to present slides from Traficant’s career on the video board, he said.
Another event will be a $20-a-plate appreciation dinner from 3 to 7 p.m. Sept. 6 at Mr. Anthony’s banquet hall, 7440 South Ave., Boardman, which Kovachik is spearheading.
Kovachik said it’s not known whether Traficant will attend. Only 1,200 tickets will be available because that’s the hall’s capacity, she said.
Dinner tickets may be obtained beginning Monday at Trolio’s Original T-Shirts, 35 W. McKinley Way, Poland, which sells “Welcome Home Jimbo” T-shirts and sweatshirts.
Tony Trolio, owner of the T-shirt store, said he has sold 500 to 600 of those T-shirts and sweatshirts to date, and expects sales to increase as Sept. 2 approaches. “Jim’s a popular guy, you know,” Trolio said, adding that he has shipped the Traficant-related clothing items nationwide.
“We never got a chance to say: ‘Thank you, congressman,”’ said Kovachik, who was seen on TV regularly accompanying Traficant to federal court during his 2002 trial.
“This is not a political ploy for his candidacy for anything. This is an appreciation for what he has brought here,” Kovachik said of the Mr. Anthony’s event.
Kovachik, who has corresponded regularly with Traficant during his imprisonment, said the former congressman has not responded to her suggestion that he run again for Congress, which Kovachik said he can legally do despite his criminal conviction.
Traficant, 68, is completing his sentence at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minn.
In April 2002, a jury in U.S. District Court in Cleveland found the nine-term Democratic congressman guilty of all 10 counts he faced, including racketeering, bribery, obstruction of justice and tax evasion.
After a 10-week trial, the jury believed he took kickbacks from high-level staffers, used other staffers as farmhands at his Greenford horse farm on federal time, accepted gifts of cash and services from businessmen, cheated on his taxes and tried to influence witnesses.
Using the trial transcript, the U.S. House of Representatives found clear and convincing evidence that he broke House rules. The House expelled him on July 24, 2002, by a 420-1 vote, just one week before he was sentenced.
One community leader who definitely won’t attend either the Scrappers game or the dinner is Youngstown Atty. James B. Callen, founder and former president of the now-dormant Citizens League of Greater Youngstown.
The league was a local government watchdog group that focused on combatting local organized crime and political corruption. The league believed Traficant had close connections with organized crime, Callen said.
“Jim has fulfilled his debt to society. He’s served the prison term. He’s being released,” Callen said. “I’m sure his family and friends are overjoyed that he’s returning, and I can understand that. If they want to hold a party, then that’s understandable also. What I would hope doesn’t happen is that there’s any official sanction for celebrating his homecoming.”
Callen said he hopes Traficant won’t try to run for Congress again.
“I would hope that the residents of the Mahoning Valley and of this congressional district would not look backward and try to reinstate him into a position of public trust,” Callen added.
Kovachik credited Traficant with getting the two federal courthouses and the Covelli Centre (the former Youngstown Convocation Center and Chevrolet Centre) built in downtown Youngstown, with establishing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic on Belmont Avenue and with getting the 711 Connector built.
Callen countered, however, “The harm that he did to this community outweighs any of those brick-and-mortar examples.”
Traficant is in good health and has been keeping his mind occupied while in prison with painting and music, Kovachik said. “He took up guitar. He’s playing the guitar now and singing,” she added.
“When he comes out of prison, I’m sure he will help anyone he can whether he’s in Congress or not,” Kovachik said.
“There are a lot of people in this Valley that are very excited about him coming home. I’m one of them,” said Heidi Hanni, a Youngstown lawyer, who has corresponded with Traficant during his incarceration.
Hanni said she also speaks regularly with Traficant’s wife, Tish, who is her hairdresser.
Tish Traficant declined to be interviewed.
Hanni’s late father, Atty. Don L. Hanni Jr., and Traficant were once political opponents, but they later became friends. The late Atty. Hanni was a longtime Mahoning County Democratic Party chairman.
“He’s not looking for any parades or trumpets. I just think he’s looking forward to coming home and being reunited with his family,” Heidi Hanni said of Traficant, whose children and grandchildren live in the Youngstown area.
“Jim Traficant has always been the guy, like my father, that took care of the little guy,” Hanni said.
“I’d like to see him get back into some form of mediation and helping the community,” Hanni said. “He seemed to have a talent at that,” she observed. She was referring to marathon bargaining sessions Traficant facilitated that ended labor strikes.
“Occasionally, he sends me one of his hand-crafted postcards. He’s becoming quite an artist,” said Dominic Marchese, a Farmdale farmer who was an aide in Traficant’s Niles congressional office.
“I can tell he’s looking forward to coming home,” Marchese said. “I imagine he’d like to spend some time on his farm.”
Marchese predicted Traficant would return to the local talk radio airwaves, where he was often heard before he went to prison. “I know he always enjoyed that. It’s kind of fitting for him,” Marchese observed.
“I don’t think anything can break his spirit. He’s a very strong-willed guy. I think that he’ll always be involved in something,” Marchese predicted.
Atty. David J. Betras, Mahoning County Democratic Party chairman, issued this prepared statement: “I have learned that Jim Traficant will return to our area in the very near future. I know that many people hold great affection for him and are anxious to welcome him back, but it is my hope that they will respect his privacy as he rejoins our community. I wish him and his family well as they begin a new chapter in their lives.”
Traficant will be on probation for three years after he leaves prison.
Dan Cansino, public information officer at the Minnesota facility, said, for security reasons, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons does not disclose the hour of an inmate’s release or his travel itinerary.
He said, however, that Traficant’s supervision will be in the Northern District of Ohio, where he must live. Traficant must follow standard conditions of supervision and any others that may have been imposed by the sentencing judge.
What: Traficant Release Night
When: 7:05 p.m.
Where: Eastwood Field, Niles, during Mahoning Valley Scrappers home game.
What: Jim Traficant Appreciation Dinner.
When: 3-7 p.m.
Where: Mr. Anthony’s, 7440 South Ave., Boardman.
Entertainment: Rocky Chirchiglia Band and Libby and Her Tamburitzans.
Cost: $20 per person.
Tickets: Available at Trolio’s Original T-Shirts, 35 W. McKinley Way, Poland.
Source: Mahoning Valley Scrappers, Linda Kovachik, former Traficant aide
A look back
Some of the significant events in the political career of former U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr.
November 1980: Elected Mahoning County sheriff.
August 1982: A federal grand jury indicts Traficant on charges of tax evasion and taking bribe money from Mahoning Valley mobsters.
June 1983: A federal jury finds Traficant innocent. Traficant had represented himself in his trial, which began in April.
November 1984: Elected to the U.S. House. He defeated incumbent Lyle Williams from Trumbull County and an independent candidate.
November 1986: Re-elected as congressman.
September 1987: Federal tax court judges rule Traficant owes taxes, penalties and interest on bribe money he failed to report as income in 1980.
November 1987: Announces his presidential campaign.
December 1987: Appeals tax verdict and successfully pushes a program through Congress to provide counseling to homeowners facing foreclosures.
July 1988: Ends presidential bid; oral arguments begin in his tax appeal case.
November 1988 and November 1990: Re-elected as congressman.
August 1992: Continues his campaign to secure “Buy American” provisions in federal contracts.
September 1993: Takes up the case of Clevelander John Demjanjuk, whom the Israeli government accused of being Nazi death camp guard “Ivan the Terrible” during World War II.
November 1994 and November 1996: Wins re-election as congressman.
November 1999: Secures federal funding for a convocation center in Youngstown, which would become the Chevrolet Centre and later the Covelli Centre. A month later, government subpoenas his payroll and office records.
April 2000: Traficant chief of staff subpoenaed to testify before grand jury investigating the congressman.
November 2000: Elected to his ninth term as congressman.
April 2002: A jury in U.S. District Court in Cleveland finds Traficant guilty of all 10 counts he faced, including racketeering, bribery, obstruction of justice and tax evasion. The trial took 10 weeks.
July 24, 2002: Expelled from the House by a vote of 420-1. Sentenced to eight-year prison term six days later.
Sept. 2, 2009: Release date from Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minn.
Source: Vindicator files