Longtime friends had a party to honor the former congressman’s release from prison.
By David Skolnick
YOUNGSTOWN — On his first day of freedom in more than seven years, ex-U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. walked a little slower, but showed he hasn’t lost a step.
Traficant proved he’s still clever enough to elude journalists waiting for him when he left the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minn., at 10:53 a.m. EST on Wednesday.
Ignoring reporters outside the federal facility, Traficant got into a Yellow Cab Co. taxi and headed for parts unknown. A Yellow Cab employee refused to disclose where the taxi took Traficant.
Journalists had expected Traficant would take a Greyhound bus home. But Traficant didn’t show up at the bus station.
The Associated Press had reporters looking for Traficant at the Rochester and Minneapolis airports, but couldn’t find him there. “He was dodging reporters,” said Linda Kovachik, a family friend and former Traficant staffer. “He wasn’t getting on the bus.”
Kovachik said she doesn’t know how Traficant is getting home.
Tish, Traficant’s wife, is still at the family’s home in Poland, Kovachik said. His wife has declined to comment on her husband’s release.
“He wanted his private time,” Kovachik said.
Traficant could have left the medical prison anytime after midnight but waited until 10:53 a.m. EST to leave.
Carrying two bags and sporting a ponytail, Traficant wore a plain short-sleeved gray shirt with a white shirt under it, white shorts, white socks raised to just below his knees and white sneakers. Traficant, 68, was also much slimmer than in 2002 — when convicted on 10 felonies.
A Greyhound bus was scheduled to leave Rochester at 11:25 a.m. EST Wednesday. The timing would have been an ideal match to Traficant’s departure time from the medical prison.
That bus is to arrive in downtown Youngstown at 10:50 a.m. today. But Traficant won’t be on it.
It isn’t known when Traficant will come home or how he’ll get here.
Kovachik expects it will be very soon.
Some of the 30 or so who attended a party at Kovachik’s Boardman house Wednesday to to commemorate Traficant’s release speculated the former congressman could have made it home late Wednesday. But none had any first-hand knowledge.
The crowd at Kovachik’s house told old stories about Traficant, sang a few songs in honor of him, and popped open a bottle of champagne to commemorate his release from prison.
“We’re so glad he’s coming back and hope he’s doing well,” said Kathleen Cerrone of Canfield, who first met Traficant in 1976. “We want him to know there are people who are still concerned about him. He did a lot of good things for this area. He stood up for working people.”
Her husband, George, said Traficant was someone who would always do whatever he could to help his constituents.
“A lot of politicians will tell you something, but won’t do anything,” he said.
“Jim would help anyone and if he couldn’t, he was honest enough to tell you. I hope people accept him back. He did his time. He’s a good man. I hope people forget what he did and support him.”
Among those at Kovachik’s party was Jack Brown of Mesopotamia, who was wearing a Traficant wig, and would occasionally say, “I’ve got a train to run,” one of the ex-congressman’s many sayings.
“I know Jim will be on a quest to vindicate himself,” Brown said. “I’m so glad he’s back.”
A much bigger party is scheduled for Sunday at Mr. Anthony’s in Boardman. More than 1,050 tickets have been sold, organizers say.
Traficant spent a little more than seven years and one month in the federal prison system.
A jury found him guilty in 2002 of 10 felony counts, including racketeering, bribery, obstruction of justice and tax evasion.
On supervised release for the next three years, Traficant must report to the U.S. Parole Commission office in downtown Youngstown shortly.
The commission’s rules require those released from prison to report to a parole officer no later than 72 hours after release.
Because that would be Saturday morning, a commission official said that initial meeting would probably be Monday. But the official forgot that Monday is Labor Day so the first reporting date for Traficant is likely to be Tuesday.
A member of the U.S. House for more than 17 years, Traficant was one of the most colorful members of the Congress.
He was known for his unique outfits — including a denim suit, bell-bottomed pants, skinny ties and cowboy boots — as well as his toupee, and his outrageous comments, most notably his one-minute speeches on the House floor.
After being convicted in federal court, Traficant refused to resign from Congress. He was only the second member of the legislative body to be expelled since the Civil War.