The former jury forewoman remembers the former congressman as ‘an arrogant person.’
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN — More than seven years since she served as forewoman on the jury that found ex-U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. guilty of 10 felony counts, Helen J. Knipp remains convinced the 12-member panel made the right decision.
Looking back on the 10-week trial that ended April 11, 2002, Knipp of Mansfield said: “No doubt he was guilty. The evidence showed that pretty plainly. He got the sentence he deserved.”
The jury deliberated about 25 hours over four days before finding Traficant guilty of all charges against him, including racketeering, bribery, obstruction of justice and tax evasion.
Knipp said she’s surprised that more than seven years has passed since the trial ended.
Traficant is to be released from federal prison today.
Knipp doesn’t have fond memories of Traficant, calling him “an arrogant person.”
Seven years ago, Knipp told The Vindicator shortly after the verdict was read: “There were times when [Traficant] felt he was smarter than us; that he was a congressman and he was above it all and we were not. He was trying to confuse us, and he didn’t do it.”
Traficant severely damaged his case by insisting he defend himself, Knipp recently told the newspaper.
“I thought he got a pretty fair deal,” she recently said. “He’s fortunate he’s [going] to be a free man. It could have been a longer sentence.”
At the time of the trial, Knipp was a 62-year-old married cashier. Her husband, who has since passed away, was a truck driver. Traficant often referred to himself as “the son of a truck driver” as a way to relate to regular people.
Knipp, now 69, is retired.
As far as putting 10 weeks of her life on hold to serve on the Traficant jury, Knipp said: “It didn’t put a strain on me. It was something I’d do again. To me, it was a learning experience. Anyone with that opportunity should make the most of it. To me, it was a privilege.”
Traficant was sentenced to eight years in prison. Traficant’s sentence was reduced to a little over seven years and one month because of good behavior.
Paul Marcone, Traficant’s former congressional chief of staff, said his ex-boss’ insistence that he defend himself added years to his sentence.
“The tragedy of his case was if he had a good lawyer, he would have been out sooner,” Marcone said. “It was a tragedy he went to jail as long as he did. I’m glad he’s getting out.”
Traficant’s jury found him guilty of all 10 felony charges filed against him.
The jury convicted Traficant for accepting free labor — significantly reduced costs in some cases — and materials for his family farm in Green Township from several contractors in exchange for congressional favors.
Traficant was found guilty of accepting money, free repairs to and equipment for a houseboat he used to own in Washington, D.C., from J.J. Cafaro, a prominent local businessman, in return for helping to promote technology developed by a Cafaro-owned company to the federal government. Cafaro’s company eventually purchased the boat from Traficant.
The former congressman was convicted for requiring staff members to work at the farm and on the houseboat on government time.
He was also convicted of requiring some staff members to kick back part of their salary to him as well as filing false tax returns in 1998 and 1999.