THE TRIALS OF TRAFICANT:
By James Ridgway de Szigethy
Into The Court of U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells
Just weeks before his third Federal trial began, Congressman James Traficant was hit with additional charges filed in the Cleveland Court of Judge Lesley Brooks Wells. The filings concerned Traficant’s interactions with Henry Nemenz, a wealthy grocery store owner in the Youngstown, Ohio area which Traficant represents in Congress. According to the Feds, in 1994 Nemenz turned to Traficant for help when Local 880 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union was picketing Nemenz’s grocery stores. Congressman Traficant agreed to help Nemenz, appearing on a radio talk show during which Traficant urged his constituents to cross the UFCW picket lines. The Feds charged that Nemenz later offered Traficant free gifts and services worth over $100,000 in exchange for Traficant’s help in squashing the efforts by the UFCW.
In most cities in this country, a public figure’s asking constituents to cross Union picket lines would be political suicide. Ohio is one of the top ten Unionized States in the U. S., but despite Traficant’s ‘Union-busting’ antics, he was re-elected in 1994 by a landslide. How did the leadership of the UFCW’s national office in Washington react to Congressman Traficant’s action against them? By continuing to make cash contributions to Traficant’s re-election campaigns, according to documents maintained by the Federal Election Commission.
To understand Congressman Traficant, the UFCW, and this seeming contradiction in Labor and politics, one must go back to an event decades ago that helped set Traficant on the road which would ultimately lead him three times into the Federal Courthouse in Cleveland as a Defendant in a trial.
That event was the 1976 death of John Scalish, the Godfather of the Cleveland Mafia Family. Scalish was survived by his son Frank, an Officer of a Textile Processors Union, but the Godfather’s heir apparent was assumed by most to be "Big Ange" Lonardo, who assisted Scalish during his 32 year reign. However, Mafia Associate Milton "Deer Hunter" Rockman, who was with Scalish at his demise, astounded everyone with his claim that it was Scalish' dying wish that "Jack White" Licavoli succeed as Godfather. Licavoli, a 72-year-old bachelor in charge of the Youngstown gambling rackets reluctantly agreed to assume the position. "Jack White" named his cousin "Lips" Moceri, who was head of the Akron rackets, as Underboss.
Licavoli was perceived by many to be a bumbling idiot, which prompted a move by rival Mobsters to attempt to take over the lucrative Ohio rackets. This plot was led by John Nardi, a high-ranking member of the corrupt Teamster's Union, and his partner Danny Greene, an Irish Mob figure in Cleveland. Greene accepted a contract on the life of "Lips" Moceri, who then disappeared, his bloodstained car found abandoned in Akron. His body has never been found.
Nardi and Greene did not live long to profit from their scheme: Nardi was soon blown to pieces by a car bomb in the parking lot outside his Teamster's Union office. On October 6, 1977, Danny Greene opened the door of his car parked outside his Dentist’s office in the Cleveland suburb of Lyndhurst. Next to Greene’s car was a car rigged with a remote-control bomb. In the distance, Youngstown Mafia figure Ronnie Carabbia waited for the right moment to push the button of his remote-control device that would detonate the bomb-car. The explosion ripped Greene’s body into pieces.
As detailed in Police Officer Rick Porrello’s book TO KILL THE IRISHMAN: THE WAR THAT CRIPPLED THE MAFIA, the murder of Danny Greene would have repercussions impacting on the residents of several U. S. States for decades. As far as Youngstown was concerned, resident Ronnie Carabbia was convicted and sent to prison for his role in Danny Greene’s murder. Responsibility for taking care of Ronnie’s family and running the gambling rackets thus fell upon his brother, Charlie "The Crab" Carabbia. In those days, the Mafia made most of it’s money not from drug trafficking, as is the case today, but from gambling rackets, which took bets from citizens in the community on sporting events, most notably collegiate and professional football games. A common Mafia tactic in those days, as well as today, involved the bribing of College athletes in ‘point-shaving’ schemes, in which an athlete, typically a quarterback on a football team or point leader on a basketball team, would take measures to keep his team’s victory below the ‘point-spread’ established by professional gamblers. If a Mafia organization could thus influence the score outcome of a game, they stood to reap huge profits by betting for the ‘underdog’ in those athletic events. Such were the scams being operated by the two Mafia Families that controlled Youngstown; Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
In 1980 James Traficant, who had enjoyed popularity as the quarterback of the University of Pittsburgh football team, announced his candidacy for Sheriff of Youngstown. Both the Pittsburgh Mafia Family and the rival Cleveland Mafia Family recognized that the next Sheriff had to be ‘bought’ by them to protect their gambling interests, so the Pittsburgh Mafia Family forwarded a $65,000 bribe to Traficant through their Associates Charles O’Nesti and Lenny Strollo. The Cleveland Mafia Family contributed more to Traficant, $98,000, forwarded to the former athlete through Charlie "The Crab."
Carabbia believed Traficant was already in the pocket of the Pittsburgh Family so as an ‘insurance policy’ Charlie secretly tape-recorded Traficant’s conversations with him in which the Sheriff-elect bragged about how he accepted the Mafia bribes. On one tape, Carabbia stuns Traficant by revealing that he is blackmailing Traficant’s friend Ed Flask, the son of a former Youngstown Mayor, with "compromising photographs that would ensure his silence!" The tape shows that Traficant is deeply troubled by Carabbia’s blackmail revelation, and just days later Associates of the Pittsburgh Mafia Family abducted Carabbia and murdered him. The Pittsburgh Mafia Family then took extraordinary measures to protect the identity of one of their accomplices in Charlie the Crab's murder, that being the person who disposed of Charlie’s car.
The FBI eventually recovered copies of the Carabbia tapes and Sheriff Traficant was indicted in 1982 for accepting bribes from the Mafia. However, Traficant acted as his own attorney, telling the jury that he only accepted the money so he would know whom to arrest for corruption once he was elected Sheriff. After four days of deliberations, an exhausted jury acquitted Traficant on all charges.
Traficant then turned the notoriety of his case to his advantage, running for Congress in 1984 and defeating the incumbent from Youngstown. While Traficant’s star was rising, so also was that of Frank Scalish. Scalish had risen in the ranks to become Secretary-Treasurer of Local 1 of the Textile Processors, Service Trades, Health Care Professionals and Technical Employees Union. Scalish also served as President of the International Union to which Local 1 was affiliated.
Not so lucky was Scalish family associate Milton Rockman; in 1986 Rockman was charged along with Cleveland Mafia Family Godfather John Tronolone and Genovese Family Godfather "Fat Tony" Salerno with Federal statutes regarding their role in rigging the election of Jackie Presser as President of the Teamsters Union. Testifying against Rockman was former Cleveland Underboss "Big Ange" Lonardo, who had ‘flipped’ and become a co-operating witness for the Feds.
A year later, Congressman Traficant was back in Federal Court a second time, facing civil charges for not paying taxes on the $163,000 in bribes he accepted from the Mafia. Prosecuting the case was an aggressive attorney named Craig Morford. Once again the Carabbia tapes were entered into evidence, but this time Traficant was convicted and forced to pay back taxes, fines, and penalties on the $163,000 in bribes.
During the next 10 years the Cleveland Mafia fell into disarray and was supplanted in Youngstown by the Pittsburgh Mafia Family. James Traficant continued to be re-elected to the Congress by huge landslides. Although Traficant told his first jury that he only accepted the Mafia bribe money so he would know whom to arrest as corrupt once he was elected Sheriff, the fact is that he never arrested any Mob figures. On the contrary, once elected to Congress, Traficant hired on the taxpayer’s payroll Charles O’Nesti, the Pittsburgh Mafia Family figure who had forwarded the Pittsburgh Family’s $65,000 bribe to Traficant. None of this seemed to matter to the residents of Youngstown, some of whom refer to their city as "Murdertown, USA."
Then came one of the most shocking crimes in United States history, an event so horrific that it jolted Youngstown residents – and the Federal government – to rise up against the Mafia. It was Christmas Eve, 1996. In the election of the previous month, James Traficant had been re-elected with 98% of the vote. That election result, however, did not trouble the members of the Mafia that held an ironclad rule over Youngstown. What concerned the Mafia was the result of the race for District Attorney. An honest cop, Paul Gains, had run for the job, an office then currently held by James Philomena, a man the Mafia ‘owned.’ The Mafia did not try to bribe Gains because they knew he was ‘Untouchable.’ Nor was Gains expected to actually win the election. The citizens of Youngstown, however, decided it was time for a change, and Gains was voted in. Lenny Strollo, who by then ran Youngstown for the Pittsburgh Mafia Family decided Gains would have to be murdered, breaking the long-held Mafia tradition that precluded hits on journalists or members of law enforcement.
Christmas Eve was chosen for the assassination, as the Mafia theorized that Gains would never expect such an event on one of the Holiest days of the year, and thus would likely let his guard down. As Gains returned to his home that night, a hired hitman, Mark Batcho, lay in wait inside. Once inside his house, the District Attorney-elect heard a noise and turned around to find a gun pointing in his face. The assassin fired and Gains fell to the floor. Batcho fired a second time, but missed. He then leaned down to put a final bullet into the cop’s head. The barrel of his gun pressed next to Paul Gains’ ear, the Mafia hitman pulled the trigger, bracing for the expected impact of Gain’s blood and brains splattering upon his body. That did not happen. Batcho pulled the trigger again. Still, nothing. Again, Batcho pulled the trigger.
The gun had jammed. The Mafia hitman then fled Gains’ home to join his accomplices waiting in a car outside. "Did you kill him?" they asked.
While the hired thugs were fleeing the scene, Paul Gains regained consciousness and called for an ambulance. Gains recovered from his gunshot wound and soon the heroic cop was sworn in as District Attorney, having survived his ‘Christmas in Murdertown.’
After decades of complacency, the citizens of Youngstown erupted into fury over the shooting of Paul Gains, demanding that action be taken against the Mafia. They got it. The U. S. Attorney’s Office in Cleveland empanelled Grand Juries and the FBI assigned numerous new agents to the Youngstown office. One by one, over 70 corrupt public officials, including Judges, the County Sheriff, the former District Attorney James Philomena, and various Mafia figures, were indicted and convicted, including those involved in the murder attempt on Paul Gains. Many of the cases were heard before Judge Lesley Brooks Wells, who typically was assigned Court cases involving organized crime. Many of those convicted, such as Charles O’Nesti, Lenny Strollo, and Sheriff Phil Chance, had one thing in common; an association with Congressman James Traficant.
Lagging behind the efforts of law enforcement in the clean up of Youngstown were most members of the Media, reluctant to take on the popular Congressman Traficant. Of the handful of journalists willing to criticize Traficant was radio talk show host Louie B. Free. In many ways, Louie Free is as colorful as his nemesis, James Traficant; both men have hairstyles that are ‘outside the norm;’ both men are known for their ‘alternative lifestyles,’ and both are suspicious of big government. In 1998, Free began putting Traficant critics, including this reporter, on his radio program. Free would soon pay the price for speaking out against Traficant; threats against his life were made, and eventually Traficant’s biggest campaign contributor purchased the radio station that Free’s show appeared on and then fired Free. Louie Free then took his popular program to another radio station but was fired again by that station’s owner who was another supporter of Traficant, after Free ran another anti-Traficant program.
Undaunted, Free took his program, which has a national audience via an Internet link, to yet another radio station. The voice that Free gave to critics of Youngstown corruption would not be silenced.
In August 1999 a lawsuit was filed in the Court of U. S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells seeking to stop the proposed merger of the Textile Workers’ Union and the UFCW. According to reports in the Business Journal of Youngstown, the lawsuit was filed by dis-satisfied rank and filers who were revolting against what they claimed were lack of representation and Democracy in the Union. Frank Scalish would not speak with the Business Journal, referring them instead to the Director of Communications for the UFCW.
The UFCW in recent years has been rocked by numerous corruption scandals. In 1998 Joseph Talirico, the former number two man in the UFCW National office, the Secretary-Treasurer, pleaded guilty to embezzling over $925,000 from UFCW Local 1 in New York. $10,000 of the money paid for Talirico’s hair transplant. Besides the $925,000 that was stolen, Talirico and four family members received over $1 million in Union salaries and expense accounts during the year 1996 alone.
Rather than denounce Talirico’s crimes committed against the workers, UFCW President Douglas Dority and former President William Wynn praised Talirico in letters sent to U. S. District Court Judge Frederick Scullin, Jr. during the sentencing stage of Talarico’s trial. "In my mind," Dority wrote to the Judge, "his integrity is unquestioned!"
A 1993 feature in New York Newsday revealed that while William Wynn was President he traveled the country in a $5 million jet owned by the UFCW, which costs the workers $1.3 million a year to maintain. In 1990 Wynn sold to the UFCW his house in Virginia for $620,000, twice the value of $337,000 assessed by the County. The deal, approved by top officers including Douglas Dority, then allowed Wynn to live in the house rent-free for three years until the scandal was exposed by a group of dissident UFCW Union members who have formed an anti-corruption organization called Research-Education-Advocacy-People. (REAP)
According to REAP, 70 percent of the $125 million collected each year by the National UFCW goes to pay for the Union bureaucracy. In 1998 President Douglas Dority received $264,000 in salary and another $71,000 in expenses. The UFCW Secretary-Treasurer received $202,000 in salary and $31,000 in expenses that year. 21 Vice-Presidents of the UFCW received an average of $141,000 in salary and an average of $24,000 in expenses each.
REAP has also revealed that UFCW Vice-President Gary Duckett, wanted for questioning by the FBI as a bank robbery suspect, was found floating in a Washington D. C. river with a gunshot wound to his head; that UFCW Vice-President Leo Cinaglia was convicted in Federal Court of taking bribes from an employer; that UFCW Comptroller Maria Coleman embezzled over $1.7 million from the workers; that the UFCW merged with a Brooklyn-based Union corrupted by the Luchese Mafia Family in 1998; that 5 officials of UFCW Local 174 in New York City were indicted for extortion; and that 2 UFCW Local 880 representatives in Ohio were cited in a $16,000 pay scam.
Other organizations of rebellious UFCW members similar to REAP include Members for Democracy, which also maintains an anti-corruption website.
Against this backdrop of emerging corruption scandals, workers across the country began to rebel against the UFCW. In November 1999 Judge Lesley Brooks Wells ordered that an election be held by the entire membership of Local 1 of the Textile Processors Union. The election was overseen by Frank Scalish and his business agent Tony Rockman. The rank and file voted to mandate that the entire membership of the Union vote on whether or not to merge with another Union, thus challenging Scalish’ plan to merge with the UFCW.
In January, 2000 the workers at 2 Tartan Textile plants in Youngstown voted to de-certify from Local 1 and join UNITE!, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees. The election was ordered by the National Labor Relations Board, the government agency with authority over Labor Union issues. The election was held under the auspices of the "Doctrine of Schism," established a half-century ago as a means of allowing Union rank and filers to throw out Unions dominated by organized crime.
Currently, a de-certification effort against the UFCW is being waged by nurses at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center near St. Louis, grocery store workers in Worcester, Massachusetts, and a de-authorization effort is being made by workers of UFCW Local 1 in New York, the Local which had nearly $1 million stolen from it by former UFCW International Secretary-Treasurer Joseph Talarico.
Congressman Traficant has indicated that if he is not convicted in his current trial, he will seek election to Congress as an Independent. Redistricting by the Ohio State Legislature has placed Traficant in a new Congressional District. Should Traficant get to run, one of his opponents will be Congressman Tom Sawyer, a former Mayor of Akron who has been a member of Congress since 1986. Whether or not the UFCW will again make campaign contributions to Traficant remains to be seen.
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