Feature Articles page 2
|Congressman James Traficant and the Murder of Mobster Charlie Carabbia|
By James Ridgway de Szigethy|
New York Investigative Journalist
...continued from page one
Testifying on Traficants behalf was another of his Deputies, Anthony Gutierrez, who had a bit of a credibility problem in that just months earlier he had been fired from his position for allegedly threatening to murder Youngstown Mayor George Vukovich. Undaunted, Traficant persisted in his defense and maintained he had returned to Charlie the Crab the bribe money he was on trial for accepting. With Carabbia conveniently dead, Traficant was able to explain the contents of the tapes by telling the jury that he had joined neither Mob faction by accepting their money, but rather was conducting his own "undercover sting operation" against the Mob so that he would know whom to arrest for corruption once elected Sheriff. After four days of deliberations an exhausted jury acquitted Traficant of all charges.
James Traficant had single-handedly beaten the United States government, the same government that the residents of Mahoning County held responsible for the closing down of the area steel mills. "This is America in 1983 not (Nazi) Germany in 1940!" a jubilant Traficant told his group of supporters. "The Mob will really fear me now!"
Thus, Sheriff Traficant returned to a heros welcome in Youngstown; tee-shirts with his image emblazoned on them sold out in minutes outside a Church reception; crowds jammed the victory celebration while a parade of supporters in automobiles turned the event into a Media circus. Traficant had proved Zsa Zsa Gabor right; there IS no such thing as "bad publicity!"
Sheriff Traficant then declared total war on the "Establishment," filing intimidation and grand theft charges against the FBI agents assigned to the Youngstown office, in addition to dereliction of duty charges against them and Mayor Vukovich. Don Hanni, local chairman of the Democratic party, called Traficant a "nitwit, a lunatic and a raving maniac" and tried to have Traficant declared legally insane so he could be removed from office. Skillfully learning to manipulate the press and public opinion, Traficant boasted publicly: "I am a powerful bastard! Im unique; Im a little crazy!"
Traficants popularity soared. Despite the opposition of the local Democratic party, Sheriff Traficant rode the wave of his "anti-Mob, anti-Establishment" notoriety into Congress in the elections of 1984. He was, in fact, the only Democrat nationwide to unseat an incumbent Republican in the Republican landslide generated by the re-election of popular President Ronald Reagan. But if James Traficant was in fact a self-styled, heroic "Mob-buster," he would fail miserably in one of his first acts as Congressman by hiring his old pal Charles ONesti, a close associate of the Prato/Naples/Strollo Pittsburgh Mafia faction, as Chief of Staff of his Youngstown Congressional office.
The Revenge of "BIG ANGE"
A few months after Traficants acquittal, Cleveland Underboss Big Ange Lonardo, who along with Godfather Licavoli had been convicted in Federal Court on racketeering charges, quietly flipped and became a co-operating witness for the United States government. Pre-shadowing the later flipping of Gambino Family Underboss Sammy the Bull Gravano, it was the high-est-ranking defection amongst the Mob up until that time. Big Ange would not disappoint the government, helping convict many Mobsters, including "Fat Tony" Salerno, Godfather of New Yorks Genovese Family.
Big Ange also testified against "Deer Hunter" Rockman, the man he believed lied about Godfather Scalishs wish that Licavoli succeed as head of the Cleveland Family, thus depriving Big Ange of his lifelong dream. Upon Big Anges testimony, the Deer Hunter was convicted of skimming profits from two Las Vegas casino; thus did Big Ange exact his revenge.
Only after the flipping of Big Ange did facts surrounding the murder of Charlie the Crab begin to emerge. Big Ange told the FBI that after Traficant was offered the bribe money, Jimmy Prato and Joey Naples of the Pittsburgh Family approached him and Godfather Jack White to request permission to murder Charlie the Crab. They suspected The Crab was cheating them by lying about the size of his gambling rackets in Youngstown. Most disturbingly, the two wiseguys reported that Charlie was now in the habit of going out to public bars, getting very drunk, and making statements against them as well as members of his own Cleveland Family. It was evident to the four Mobsters that something was deeply troubling Charlie the Crab; either he was becoming greedy and trying to take over all of the Youngstown rackets for himself, or he was on the verge of "flipping for the government, as had hitman Ferritto. Prato and Naples smelled a rat and wanted Charlie dead.
After giving the matter considerable thought, the Godfather decided that if Charlie was murdered, his brother Ronnie, in prison for the murder of Danny Greene, would likely retaliate by himself becoming a government witness. Ronnie, they all knew, could bring down everyone, but would likely stay in line as long as Charlie was alive to provide for his brothers family. The Godfather denied Pratos and Naples request, although he did grant permission to murder Charlie the Crab if he continued this erratic and unexplained behavior.
Shortly after his disappearance, Prato and Naples confessed to Big Ange that they had murdered Charlie the Crab. The two wiseguys also explained that they had an accomplice who helped them in this murder. They did not tell Lonardo who this man was but apologized to Big Ange for the fact that he very sloppily disposed of The Crabs car in Cleveland, which would suggest to law enforcement that Charlies disappearance was the work of the Cleveland Family.
Who Was This "THIRD MAN" Involved in the Murder of Charlie the Crab? Was He Someone Whom Charlie Had Secretly Photographed or Tape-Recorded for the Purposes of Blackmail, and Would Thus Have a Motive to Kill Him?
All that is certain is that he was an associate of Jimmy Prato, Joey Naples, and Lenny Strollo of the Pittsburgh Mafia Family, was probably, like most of their associates, an Italian-American, and most likely lived in the area of the Youngstown donut shop where Charlie the Crab was last known to be. Unlike the bloodstained car of Lips Moceri, authorities found no evidence inside The Crabs car that a violent event had taken place, indicating he was lured inside another vehicle or building where his abduction occurred. As both Naples and Prato were The Crabs publicly proclaimed enemies, it is likely that their accomplice was someone whom Charlie had known for many years and trusted to some extent and thus was used by the two wiseguys to lure The Crab into their death trap.
The Tale of the Tapes
In 1987 Congressman Traficant faced a civil trial for back taxes on the bribe money he did not declare on his income tax. Advising Traficant during this trial was Youngstown attorney George Alexander. Traficant claimed that the money was campaign contributions which are non-taxable, although he failed to report the money on campaign finance reports. Traficant refused to testify about his statements on the FBI tapes, perhaps fearing a Perjury trap should the government ever flip Prato or Naples. Judge B. John Williams Jr. concluded that Traficants refusal to testify confirmed the damning evidence on the tapes and convicted Traficant of all charges. In his decision, Judge Williams cited the secretly recorded conversations that were the final legacy of Charlie the Crab. In the age of electronic surveillance, dead men DO live on to tell tales.
Shortly after Traficants conviction, Jimmy Prato died of a heart attack. Despite his life of crime Prato had only spent one day of his life in jail. In August, 1991 Joey Naples was blown away by an assassin laying in wait for him in a cornfield across the site of the construction of his retirement home. Coming 11 years after the murder of rival Charlie the Crab, the news of Naples murder stunned those within and without law enforcement. Said government informant Robert Armstrong; "What other faction is there?; theres nobody to fight with!" At Naples funeral, the Reverend John DeMarinis called his murder "tragic." "He was always there to help!" Traficant, in town during the August Congressional recess, had no comment. Naples murder, like the murder of Charlie the Crab, remains unsolved.
go to top of page
The Congressional Follies
James Traficants career in Congress has been just as controversial as his tenure as Sheriff of Mahoning County, once again involving a single subject; murder. One of Congressman Traficants most publicized acts has been his championing of John Demjanjuk, the retired auto worker whom the Justice Department deported to Israel to face charges he was "Ivan the Terrible," the notorious Nazi concentration camp murderer. Traficant insisted that the Justice Department had "gotten the wrong guy" and rose to Demjanjuks defense. (This was, of course, the SAME Justice Department that Traficant had compared to Nazi Germany after his own acquittal.) Although Demjanjuk was found guilty, the Israeli Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1993 and Traficant personally flew to Israel to escort the accused Nazi mass murderer back to the United States. Traficant also has traveled to Gwinnett County, Georgia to show his support for former police officer Mike Chapel, who was convicted of the robbery and murder of a 53 year old woman.
Congressman Traficants greatest controversy involves his claim that officers of the CIA were responsible for the murders of the 270 people who died as a result of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in December, 1988. Shortly after this terrorist attack, Traficant called a press conference, at which he claimed that a CIA drug trafficking scheme gone awry had allowed the bomb to be smuggled onboard. ABC News London correspondent Pierre Salinger then picked up the story, utilizing Traficant, government informant Lester Coleman, and private investigator Juval Aviv as his sources. Eventually, the Justice Department indicted two agents of Libyan Intelligence for the bombing and Traficants and Salingers CIA theory lost credibility as the press began to scrutinize its proponents.
Lester Coleman was able to get his allegations published in a book in which he portrayed himself as a daring "superspy" but Michael Hurley of the Drug Enforcement Administration filed a lawsuit, and the publisher, Bloomsbury, issued a public apology to Hurley, $155,000 in damages, $465,000 in legal fees, and agreed to shred all remaining copies of Colemans book. Coleman later pleaded guilty to Perjury charges and admitted the whole Pan Am/CIA story was a hoax.
Juval Aviv, the private investigator whose report for Pan Am implicated the CIA, also is the author of a book, "Vengeance," an account of what he claimed was his life as a "superspy" for Israels Mossad. The Israeli government denied Avivs claims and the Presidents Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism would later conclude that Aviv had fabricated his past as a spy. In 1996 Aviv was put on trial in Manhattan on Federal fraud charges unrelated to the Pan Am case. He was acquitted.
Upon Avivs indictment Congressman Traficant found a replacement in Prince Boris de Korczak, a retired "superspy" from Poland who, like Aviv, immigrated to America to become a private investigator. De Korczak joined Traficants office as his lead researcher in his quest to prove CIA responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Boris is best known for the lawsuit he filed in 1996 against the CIA claiming he is owed money from an alleged recruitment in the 1970s as a double agent against the KGB. At a 1979 party at the Soviet Embassy in Denmark, Boris claims, his cover was blown by a drunken U. S. Embassy official, resulting in a shoot-out with the KGB during a wild car chase through the streets of Copenhagen. Boris also swears that once he had entered the United States, his CIA case officer demanded a bribe of Medieval Russian icons worth $300,000 in exchange for help obtaining the pension he claims he is owed. Boris claims he turned over the bribe, only to be shot in the kidney 3 months later by an unknown assailant armed with a pellet gun. The CIA denied Boris claims he is owed monetary compensation and also denied any of its employees shot Boris with a pellet gun. Boris case was dismissed and the decision was upheld on Appeal. In January 1998, Traficant introduced into Congress a bill that, if passed, would compel the CIA to compensate Boris.
The Great Youngstown Water Scandal
Like James Traficant, the former Sheriffs attorneys Carmen Policy and Ed Flask would move on to bigger and better things after Traficants acquittal on bribery charges. Policy would become President of the San Francisco 49ers professional football team, whose owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., the son or Ronnie Carabbias gambling partner, would resign his position in December, 1997 after the Media reported he was likely to be indicted along with former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards on Federal illegal gambling charges.
Ed Flask went on to head the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District, the public utility that supplies water to the valleys 300,000 residents. Flasks downfall began in 1995, when James Callen, Chairman of the Citizens League of Greater Youngstown, testified before the Ohio State Legislature. Callen was concerned that Charlie the Crabs photographs might be used by the Mob to compromise Flasks actions in the public interest. Callen testified: "If organized crime figures do, in fact, have prejudicial, compromising photographs of Mr. Flask that could be used to blackmail him regarding bribes to political candidates, what assurance do citizens of the Mahoning Valley have that the same photographs will not be used to influence his performance as Director of the MVSD?"
Callens testimony prompted an investigation of the MVSD by Ohio State Auditor Jim Petro and in August, 1997 Petro released a scathing report, accusing Ed Flask of awarding multi-million dollar contracts to a variety of corporations and then receiving $1.9 million in payments from those same companies. Petro is seeking the recovery of $2.7 million in taxpayer funds, while an MVSD Special Prosecutor has joined the FBI and the Justice Department in their investigation of over 30 attorneys, judges, politicians, and Mobsters implicated in an elaborate bribery and influence peddling scam. Through his attorney John Climaco, the son of a steelworker who once represented Teamsters President Jackie Presser and entertainer Sammy Davis Jr., Flask has denied the allegations being made against him.
To date, over 10 Youngstown officials have been charged, including Charles ONesti, who for 13 years worked as Traficants Chief of Staff of his Youngstown Congressional office. ONesti has pleaded guilty to Perjury and racketeering charges regarding his efforts with Pittsburgh Mobster Lenny Strollo to bribe a candidate for Mahoning County Sheriff and to extort money from Mahoning County contractors. Strollo, the successor to Jimmy Prato and Joey Naples, is being held without bail on racketeering murder charges.
Municipal Judge Patrick Kerrigan, who has also been charged, told the press that being indicted by the U. S. Attorneys office in Cleveland "didnt hurt Jim Traficant! Assistant U. S. Attorney Craig Morford has announced that Traficants former attorney George Alexander, now disbarred, is one of the targets of his Mob investigations. One area of concern is the fact that $13,000 went into the pockets of Alexanders two daughters who performed little or no work while on Traficants payroll in 1985 and 1986.
Also assisting Morford in this investigation is former MVSD Executive Director Michael Iberis, who has told authorities that Ed Flask directed him to launder money to various elected officials in a manner similar to that which Traficant says he laundered money with Flask on the Carabbia tapes. The Congressman has been mostly silent as the growing scandal has prompted the Media and the authorities to take a second look at the tapes made by a Mobster who disappeared 17 years ago and the public figure the Mobster conversed with on those tapes.
The last major investigation by the Media of Congressman Traficant was a 1990 profile in the Washington Post, which detailed Traficants erratic and violent behavior. One Congressional Aide complained: "He once physically accosted my boss in the middle of the street about a particular bill!" "He stopped traffic and wouldnt let go of his arm!" Traficant, who lives alone on a boat, pulled no punches in telling the Post of his willingness to resort to violence under certain conditions, volunteering that he sleeps with a loaded shotgun at his side. "Theres no question about it!" the Congressman warned. "If I see someone in my house at night, Im not going to ask them what theyre doing there; Im going to kill them!
Copyright © 1999 PLR International