THE TRIALS OF TRAFICANT:
By James Ridgway de Szigethy
For the third time since entering politics two decades ago, Congressman James Traficant, (D-Ohio) is a Defendant on trial. Once again, a confident Traficant is adding to this drama by acting as his own attorney, even though the flamboyant politician has no background in law. Jury selection began the first full week in February at the Federal Courthouse in Cleveland, the scene of Traficant’s first Federal bribery trial a generation ago.
WHAT TRAFICANT IS CHARGED WITH
Congressman Traficant is charged in 10 Federal counts:
Count 1. Traficant violated Federal bribery statutes by accepting gifts of free labor and materials on his horse farm from construction contractors Anthony Bucci and Robert T. Bucci Sr. in exchange for Traficant’s official acts to promote the Bucci business.
Count 2. Traficant violated Federal bribery statutes by accepting gifts of free labor and materials on his horse farm from Arthur David Sugar, owner of Honey Creek Contracting Company, in exchange for Traficant’s official acts to promote the Sugar family business, as well as offer assistance to Sugar’s son in his DUI case. The Feds have also charged that international businessman Pete Bucheit lied to the Grand Jury in this case in regards to Bucheit’s aid to Traficant’s horse farm in exchange for Traficant’s help in procuring payment owed to Bucheit’s construction company for work performed in Saudi Arabia and in Yasser Arafat’s Gaza Strip.
Count 3. Traficant violated Federal bribery statutes by accepting gifts of cash and free maintenance of his houseboat from John J. Cafaro, owner of USA Aerospace Group, an air transportation company, and it’s COO, Richard DeTore, in exchange for Traficant’s official acts to promote Cafaro’s business.
Counts 4 and 5. Traficant violated Federal bribery statutes by allegedly hiring an attorney to work in his Congressional office with the understanding that the employee would illegally kickback $2,500 each month from his salary to Traficant.
Count 6. Traficant violated Obstruction of Justice statutes by allegedly trying to persuade an employee to destroy evidence and testify falsely to the Grand Jury investigating the salary kickback scheme.
Count 7. Traficant defrauded the United States government by having his employees kickback part of their salaries to him, in addition to having them work on his houseboat and horse farm.
Counts 8 and 9. Traficant allegedly filed a false income tax return for 1998 and 1999 by not listing the income he illegally received from the kickback scheme with his employees.
Count 10. Traficant allegedly violated the RICO statutes through his acceptance of bribes of cash, meals, labor, and services. Added in a subsequent superceding indictment to this count were allegations that Traficant accepted bribes from James R. Sabatine, an Ohio paving contractor who has pleaded guilty to bribery and income tax evasion.
J. J. Cafaro and Arthur David Sugar have pleaded guilty to bribing Traficant and will testify to that claim at Traficant’s trial. Prosecutors have also announced their intention to introduce evidence regarding Henry Nemenz, a grocery store owner in the Mahoning Valley who is alleged to have given goods and services to Traficant’s horse farm in exchange for Traficant’s help in a dispute with the UFCW Union.
At his arraignment last year on these charges, Traficant pleaded "Not Guilty by reason of Sanity!"
WHAT TRAFICANT IS NOT CHARGED WITH
When Congressman Traficant was charged last May, he stated to the Business Journal of Ohio, almost in disappointment: " Where’s the murder charge, and where’s the Mob charge that were the ‘subject of leaks’ during my past campaigns?" The murder charge in question related to the demise of Cleveland Mafia figure Charlie "The Crab" Carabbia, who was murdered just days after disclosing to Traficant that he was blackmailing Traficant’s friend Ed Flask with "compromising photographs." This is known because Carabbia was secretly taping Traficant’s conversations with him for his own blackmail purposes. The FBI while investigating another Mafia murder in Youngstown later found copies of these tapes.
The tapes detailed how Traficant, a candidate for County Sheriff in 1980, accepted $63,000 from the Pittsburgh Mafia Family and $98,000 from the Cleveland Mafia Family to protect their gambling operations should he get elected. The tapes were used as evidence in the Federal bribery trial in 1983 in which Traficant was acquitted and also in the 1987 civil tax case in which Traficant was convicted.
The Carabbia tapes then went ignored for a decade until this reporter referenced them in the 1998 AmericanMafia.com investigative report ‘One Degree of Separation: Congressman James Traficant and the Murder of Mobster Charlie Carabbia.’ Last year, Traficant suddenly resurrected the story of the tapes, publicly challenging the government’s story as to how the tapes were discovered.
All these years later, why would Traficant now challenge the legal status as evidence of these tapes when he could not be charged again with the acts of bribery the tapes detailed? The only apparent reason was that the tapes also provide evidence that Traficant had a motive to participate with the Pittsburgh Mafia Family in the murder of Charlie The Crab, as the tapes show that Traficant is stunned and troubled by Carabbia’s revelation that he is blackmailing Traficant’s friend Flask, the son of a powerful political family in Youngstown that was also involved with the Pittsburgh Mafia Family. According to testimony by Cleveland Family Underboss "Big Angie" Lonardo, who "flipped" and became a co-operating witness for the government, Pittsburgh Mafia members took extraordinary steps to conceal from the Cleveland Family the identity of their accomplice who participated in the murder plot by disposing of Carabbia’s car on the night of the murder. Many years after this testimony, Pittsburgh Mafia Family figure Lenny Strollo, who was among those who gave Traficant their $63,000 bribe, also "flipped," admitting his own role in the Carabbia murder while identifying to the Feds the names of others who were involved. There are no statutes of limitations on the prosecution of murder.
Traficant’s concern over the Carabbia tapes as evidence against him apparently waned when the current indictments came down, which make no reference to the tapes.
Another crime Traficant was NOT charged with was involvement in the conspiracy to murder Sandra Ferrante, a former employee on Traficant’s horse farm. In 1999 Charles Broad, another employee of Traficant’s, pleaded guilty to conspiring to hire a hitman to murder Ferrante, who was scheduled to testify against Traficant before the Federal Grand Jury investigating him in Cleveland. As required by law, the FBI contacted Ferrante once they uncovered the plot to assassinate her and took her into protective custody until Broad was arrested. Agents played for Ferrante secret tapes of Broad stating his desire to have her killed, with Broad claiming that "The Man" wanted her eliminated. Ferrante would tell the Media she believed "The Man" was their mutual employer Traficant. Broad’s history of mental illness, however, precluded the Feds from obtaining an indictment using his testimony alone. However, the Feds in Cleveland petitioned the Judge in Traficant’s trial to make the jury in his case anonymous, a rare step usually taken only in Mafia cases in which the Defendant is regarded as extremely dangerous. Judge Lesley Brooks Wells denied the Prosecution request.
THE PROSECUTION TEAM
The Prosecution team is being led by Assistant U. S. Attorney Craig Morford, Bernard A. Smith, and Matthew B. Kall, acting on evidence compiled from investigations by the FBI and Internal Revenue Service. Morford successfully Prosecuted Traficant in the 1987 trial in which Traficant was convicted for failing to pay income tax on the $163,000 in bribes he accepted from members of the Pittsburgh and Cleveland Mafia Families.
U. S. District Court Judge Lesley Brooks Wells is presiding over the trial at the Federal Courthouse in Cleveland. Judge Wells has already had several run-ins with Traficant in Court, warning him on numerous occasions that she is not going to put up with any of the antics for which Traficant is infamous.
THE JURY POOL
The Jury Pool in this trial is very different than the one that acquitted Traficant in 1983. In the first trial, several jurors were from the Mahoning Valley where Traficant was known as a popular high school and College quarterback and then later as the new Sheriff. The Mahoning Valley at that time had been devastated by the unethical dumping into the U. S. markets of steel subsidized by the Japanese government, the result being that the steel mills of Ohio were shut down and thousands of workers lost their livelihood. Anger at the Federal government for it’s inaction in this matter was deeply ingrained in the citizens of the Mahoning Valley, an anger that Traficant turned to his advantage once the government went after him.
After Traficant’s acquittal, the Sheriff turned his notoriety over the trial to his advantage, defeating the incumbent Congressman from the Valley in 1984. One of the projects Traficant was successful in bringing to Youngstown was it’s own Federal Courthouse, which meant that the Jury Pool for Cleveland no longer included people from the Mahoning Valley. Thus, there are no jurors from Traficant’s area on the current jury.
Also, the Jury Pool in Cleveland is more ‘white-collar’ in it’s makeup, and the effects of the closing of the steel mills a generation ago have not had the impact on the area’s workers as compared to Youngstown.
Before Jury selection began, Roll Call’s Damon Chappie reported that Traficant would seek to prevent Jewish citizens from being impaneled in his trial. Chappie reported that Traficant was concerned that his support of accused Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk would prejudice members of the Jewish community against him. Traficant sparked outrage in Congress on September 11 when he suggested that the attacks on America were the result of the U. S. policy regarding the Palestinians.
Traficant has often been accused of being anti-Semitic and for many years accepted thousands of dollars in contributions from associates of the Mujahedin e-Khalq, an organization on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Members of the MEK were involved in the storming of the U. S. Embassy in Tehran in 1980 during which Americans were taken as hostages by the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Traficant has also received praise from the Islamic world because of his defense of the Libyan terrorist convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland in December, 1988, killing 270 people, among them scores of Syracuse University college students as well as several employees of the CIA.
TRAFICANT’S LIKELY STRATEGIES IN COURT
‘Traficant - GOOD, Government - BAD!’
Congressman Traficant’s behavior has been consistent over the years in expressing his hostility towards the Federal government. During his appearance on a radio talk show last year which was carried live on CSPAN, Americans who called in to express their support of Traficant revealed they are part of the right-of-center conspiracy theorist types who appear obsessed with government excesses such as the cases of Waco and Ruby Ridge. Traficant will likely try to present himself to the jury as the ‘victim’ of an evil government that has sought his demise for over 20 years.
The ‘Torricelli Defense’
In recent years, U. S. Senator Robert Torricelli, (D-New Jersey) was the subject of a Federal probe on bribery allegations very similar to those Traficant is facing today. When information first appeared in the Media that Torricelli had accepted a variety of gifts from a convicted con artist, David Chang, Torricelli first took the position that he barely knew Chang. Later, once the evidence of Torricelli’s acceptance of gifts from Chang became indisputable, Torricelli changed his story, stating publicly that he and Change were close friends who frequently exchanged gifts, thus, because of their friendship, Torricelli accepted "no illegal gifts!" Traficant could take a similar approach in attempting to explain why he accepted gifts from various associates while claiming that there was no ‘quid pro quo’ in regards to his acts as Congressman on their behalf.
The ‘City Slickers Defense’
Traficant may try to claim that while many associates performed work on his horse farm, they did so voluntarily, enjoying work on a ranch that invoked the spirit of the American pioneers. Such a strategy would fit in well with Traficant’s ‘John Wayne’ style of flag waiving, which he frequently resorts to unashamedly.
Testifying ‘Without Testifying’
During Traficant’s first bribery trial he refused to take the Witness Stand on his own behalf. Traficant didn’t have to, because his acting as his own attorney allowed him to convey to the jury his reactions to the Prosecution witnesses without having to submit to the government’s cross-examination. It’s likely Traficant will try the same strategy this time around.
Personal attacks on government witnesses
Congressman Traficant is notorious for making allegations about the personal lives of people he considers his enemies, often without substantiation. Last year Traficant went on national television and accused Attorney General Janet Reno of being blackmailed by the Mafia through possession of a videotape on which Reno was shown having sex with a ‘Mobbed-up callgirl!’ Traficant would later accuse an FBI agent in Youngstown of raping a woman, a charge denied by the agent in question and the alleged victim. Thus, it’s likely Traficant will make sensational – and unsubstantiated – allegations against Prosecution Witnesses in an effort to discredit them.
Mastery of the English language
James Traficant has proven to be a master of manipulating people through his command of the English language. During his first bribery trial, Traficant asked the jurors to defend him "like a junkyard dog in a hurricane!" The image of a mongrel dog conveyed the message to the jury that in essence he, Traficant, was not a privileged member of the ruling elite (such as the Prosecutors), and neither were they, the jurors. The jurors identified with Traficant the underdog and he won their acquittal.
This time around the jury may not be so easily swayed, but Traficant has already signaled how he might appeal to them; during his CSPAN appearance, Traficant repeatedly stated that he was just "the son of a truck driver!" He also likened his cause to that of a train steaming across America. Traficant will thus likely try to verbally wrap himself in the American flag, with the subtle suggestion to the jury that to convict him would be downright un-American, an act even more horrific given the events of 9-11.
If convicted, Traficant faces over 40 years in prison, a $1 million fine, and forfeiture of his horse farm. The trial is expected to last two months.
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