The vanities of the ex-cons

By Bertram de Souza

There he was in all his criminally convicted glory, talking about running for Congress. Who, James A. Traficant Jr., the loud-mouth congressman and louder-mouth ex-con? No, it wasn’t Traficant. It was his goomba, disgraced and disbarred lawyer, Mark Colucci.

The fact that this con man was able to get reporters to cover his announcement last week that he’s running for the 6th congressional district seat says as much about the state of journalism as it does about him.

Press coverage of Traficant since his release from federal prison in early September after a seven-year stint is justified because you never know when he’ll pull his pants down and moon the cameras. There’s something to be said for comic relief to lift the burden of daily living — which is what the former congressman provides.

But Colucci is a different kettle of rotting fish. There’s nothing interesting about him.

Tax evasion

In December 2004, during his sentencing for tax evasion, the disbarred lawyer said, “I’m humbled, humiliated and crushed. If it wasn’t for my family I wouldn’t be here.”

So what happened to his humility, his humiliation and his disappointment in himself?

Eighteen months in federal prison certainly didn’t do what it was supposed to — bring about positive change in this individual. If it had, he wouldn’t dream of putting the Mahoning Valley through the pain of national ridicule by running for Congress on the Ex-Con ticket.

During his sentencing, he admitted that he collected $29,727 in income taxes and Federal Insurance Contributions Act taxes from his employees but failed to pay the IRS. He also failed to pay $291,149 in personal income tax for calendar years 1997 through 2001.

In June 2004, the Mahoning County Bar Association filed a complaint against Colucci, charging that he did secret legal work for Traficant when the then congressman was defending himself against federal bribery charges in 2001.

The bar also accused Colucci of charging excessive fees and not doing legal work for his clients. Many of Colucci’s former clients banded together to recoup legal fees or have their cases reopened.

About 30 former clients received more than $100,000 from the Board of Commissioners of the Clients’ Security Fund of Ohio. The fund is financed partially from attorney registration fees to help victims of attorney theft.

In addition to the 18 months in prison, Colucci was ordered to participate in a 500-hour drug treatment program and to receive mental health treatment while in prison.

But now, he brazenly looks into the camera and says that he has paid his dues and, therefore, wants to give the voters a chance to decide whether he deserves to go to Washington as a member of Congress.

It might be argued that he certainly has the criminal credentials to serve, given that his political mentor, Traficant, is cut from the same cloth.

Traficant, since his release from the federal pen, has demonstrated that his shame knows no bounds. He has been making the rounds of the national and local talk shows and, by and large, has received kid-glove treatment.

He is often asked whether he intends to run for Congress, and offers a noncommittal answer. There is chatter that a poll has been commissioned to see how he would fare if he ran in the 17th District, which he had previously represented.

The district is now represented by Democrat Tim Ryan of Niles, who has emerged as a rising star on Capitol Hill.

Having Traficant on the ballot could be the best thing that happens to the Mahoning Valley. He’ll find out, once and for all, that this region no longer suffers crooked politicians kindly.

Life imitating art

As for Colucci, his campaigning in Appalachia could be life imitating art. Remember the hit movie “Deliverance?” If he hears a bango playing, he would do well to run like hell.

He will also find out that the mere mention of his being from Mahoning County and having served time in the federal pen will cause voters to politically tar and feather him. The folks in many of the counties in the 6th District don’t want the Valley’s political dregs.

So let them run, the two ex-cons — and perhaps they’ll keep going and going and going and never come back.

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