By Bertram de Souza
Former congressman and now former federal prisoner James A. Traficant Jr. will in all likelihood show up at the “Welcome Home Jimbo” bash this afternoon. But this writer won’t be there to witness the return of the conquering hero.
“He doesn’t want to see you. If you show up you won’t be allowed in.”
So said Linda Kovachik, who made a special trip to downtown Youngstown Saturday morning to deliver the message from Traficant, who has spent the last seven years and a month in the penitentiary.
“I don’t want you to be embarrassed, that’s why I came here,” Kovachik said in the offices of The YTown Radio Stations. She made the comments in the presence of several people.
This writer and Dr. William Binning, professor emeritus at Youngstown State University, had just completed the Saturday morning radio talk show “The Valley’s Talkin’ With Doc and Bert” when Kovachik entered the studio.
It was surreal.
“You’re not welcome tomorrow,” she said. When asked why, the former congressional aide to Traficant and party organizer said she had talked to her ex-boss Friday night and he made it clear this writer is persona non grata.
Being banned from a Traficant event is nothing new. During his tenure in Congress, he often refused this writer, who was the political reporter at the time, access to his press conferences.
When pressed for an explanation of the ex-congressman’s attitude, Kovachik said Traficant was unhappy “with the things you’ve written about him.”
And then she added this comment that confirms the long-held belief that his followers will drink the Kool-Aid if he asks them to: “You should sit down and write him a letter apologizing for some of the things you’ve said.”
It will be a cold day in hell before James A. Traficant Jr. receives an apology from this writer.
When he stands before his adoring supporters this afternoon and soaks in all the adulation, he should think about this: In the end, he’s nothing more than a two-bit politician who used his public position for personal gain.
The 10 criminal charges that the jury in federal court had found him guilty of weren’t the result of a grand conspiracy by the federal government, but rather the actions of a man who couldn’t keep his hand out of the cookie jar.
The seven years and a month sentence weren’t the result of the judge, the prosecutors and the jurors conspiring to toss him in prison, but rather the arrogance of a man who thought he could serve as his own lawyer and do a better job that any hotshot criminal defense attorney.
And so he went away — and it is now clear that contrition isn’t one of the things he learned in prison.
This afternoon’s party will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of his personal and public lives, but Traficant should ask himself this question: Am I a better person today than I was in 2002 when I was led away in handcuffs?
Prison changes people.
Of the more notable inmates from the Mahoning Valley, Michael I. Monus, the once king of the deep discount retail chain Phar-Mor, chose not to return home at the end of his 12-year stint in federal prison. Monus moved to Florida where he reportedly has built a comfortable life for himself.
By contrast, there’s disbarred lawyer Richard Goldberg, who served 51 months in federal prison, returned to the Valley and quickly showed that shame isn’t in his DNA. Last week, a retired state trooper called to say he was stopped at a traffic light and alongside his car was a new luxury Mercedes Benz driven by Goldberg. The one-time renowned malpractice attorney has lost his licence to practice, but last year it was revealed he has been doing legal research for lawyers in the area.
One of the highest profile ex-cons from this area is former Mafia boss Lenine “Lenny” Strollo, who spent 12 years in the federal pen, instead of being given a life sentence — because he became a snitch for the government. Strollo admitted to directing organized crime activities in this area for decades. He returned home late last year — quietly.
But Traficant is in a category all his own when it comes to his being in the land of the free.
There already is talk that he will be appearing on Greta Van Susteren’s show on Fox Television. She certainly doesn’t want a kinder, gentler Jimbo.