THE TRIALS OF TRAFICANT:
By James Ridgway de Szigethy
"A Jury Of His Peers!"
For only the second time since the Civil War, the House of Representatives has voted to expel a member for violation of House Ethics Rules. With the outcome a foregone conclusion, somber members of the House gathered on the evening of July 24 to consider the Resolution brought by the Ethics Committee recommending that Congressman James Traficant Jr. (D-Ohio) be expelled. The recommendation by the Ethics Committee was the result of an investigation of the evidence presented against Traficant in his recent Federal trial in Cleveland, which resulted in Traficantís conviction on all 10 Counts of bribery, income tax evasion, and racketeering.
The proceedings began with a Motion filed by Traficantís friend and Congressional neighbor, Steven LaTourette, (R-Ohio), which sought to delay the vote on expulsion until after Congress returned in September from itís annual August recess. That Motion was defeated, with Democrats voting solidly against it and Republicans almost evenly split. This vote could be interpreted as evidence of the hostility members of the Democratic Party still feel due to Traficantís pledge in 2000 to vote for Republican Dennis Hastert as Speaker of the House, regardless which party won a plurality in the election. After Traficant made good on his pledge, angry Democrats took away his House Committee assignments.
Once LaTouretteís Motion was defeated, debate on the Resolution began. Testimony was given alternately between Traficant and his opponents of both parties, with Traficant somewhat restrained in his defense of himself. Absent was the "Michael Jackson moonwalk" Traficant had earlier threatened to perform on the floor of the House. Also absent was the denim suit Traficant had promised to wear; instead, the Congressman wore a conservative black suit, as if in mourning for his own demise as Congressman. Traficantís notorious out-of-style wardrobe brought the only two instances of humor into the proceedings; during his plea for the Motion to delay the vote, Representative LaTourette noted that Traficant likely had not accepted thousands of dollars of kickbacks from an employee, as it was obvious that the money had not been spent by Traficant at "Brooks Brothers!" Traficant himself referred to his wardrobe during his closing remarks, in which he suggested that his fellow members of Congress had a secret desire to wear bell-bottom pants.
During his testimony, Traficant once again lashed out against the Judge in his Federal trial, whom he claims had a Conflict of Interest, and railed against the witnesses in his case, all of whom he claimed were forced to lie as part of a vast conspiracy against him directed by former Attorney General Janet Reno, whom he claims was blackmailed by the Mafia into committing Treason. Several members of Congress rebutted Traficantís claims, and urged their fellow members to stay focussed on the substantial evidence against Traficant.
As the vote drew closer, the mood of the Congress became more serious. Representative Kenny Hulshof (R-Missouri) tried to put a positive spin on the historic event, telling the House that this would be remembered as one of Congressí "finest hours!" Stated Congressman Gene Green, (D-Texas); "This is the peopleís House and we have to do our job!"
In his closing arguments, Traficant admonished the House: "You didnít elect me Ė my people donít want me out!" Traficant also lashed out against the jury in his Federal trial, claiming some jurors were predisposed to vote against him before the trial. Traficant had previously denounced on national television these jurors, claiming they lied about having little prior knowledge about him.
In the end, Traficantís colleagues in Congress came together in one of the rarest incidents of bi-partisan voting in the history of the United States, voting 420 to 1 to expel the Congressman from the Ohio city itís residents refer to as ĎMurdertown.í Casting the sole vote for Traficant was lame duck California Congressman Gary Condit, who was rejected by his constituents in the Democratic Primary earlier this year after Condit came under scrutiny during the investigation of the murder of Chandra Levy, a Congressional Intern with whom Condit had an affair. Ironically, just minutes prior to Conditís vote, Traficant had admonished the House for not expelling two Congressmen who were detected having affairs with 17-year-old Congressional Interns, one male, the other female, neither of which, however, wound up dead.
The plot to murder one of Traficantís own employees with whom he was alleged to have had an affair, horse trainer Sandra Ferrante, was a tale that Traficant attempted to turn to his advantage during his address of the House. Traficant complained that the jury pool in his Federal bribery trial was tainted by a story Ferrante gave to the Media last year in regards to her belief that Traficant was involved in a plot to have her murdered prior to her testimony before the Grand Jury investigating Traficant and the Mafia in Ohio. Ferrante went public with the story after spending months in protective custody after the FBI played for her secretly-recorded tapes of another Traficant employee, Clarence Broad, which detailed Broadís attempt to hire a hitman to murder Ferrante. By the time Traficantís trial came about, Ferrante had changed her belief as to Traficantís involvement in the murder plot and testified as a Defense Witness, denying the two had an affair but admitting that she once slashed Traficantís tires on his vehicle. Clarence Broad pleaded guilty to murder solicitation and is serving a lengthy prison sentence.
Prosecutors in Traficantís Federal trial used the evidence regarding the murder plot against Ms. Ferrante in their attempt to have the Judge in the case empanel an anonymous jury, a tactic commonly resorted to in cases in which the Defendant is a member of the Mafia. Prosecutors were also concerned about Traficantís association with Cleveland Mafia Family associate Charlie "The Crab" Carabbia, who was revealed in secretly-recorded tapes to have contributed $163,000 in Mafia bribes to Traficant when Traficant first sought public office. Carabbia was murdered just days after disclosing to Traficant that he was blackmailing Traficantís friend Ed Flask, the son of a prominent Ohio politician, with "compromising photographs!"
The Judge in Traficantís trial ruled there was insufficient evidence to warrant the empanelling of an anonymous jury and denied the Prosecutorís Motion. After the verdict in Traficantís bribery trial, 4 members of the jury came forward to speak to the Media about this historic event. Juror Jeri Zimmerman has not been amused by Traficantís public rantings against the Judge, jurors, and witnesses in his Federal trial. In reaction to the vote by "a jury of his peers" to expel him from Congress, Ms. Zimmerman tells AmericanMafia.com: "There comes a time in everyoneís life that they have to do some soul-searching and take responsibilities for their own actions!"
Former Congressman James Traficant is scheduled to be sentenced on July 30 for the 10 Federal Counts of bribery, income tax evasion, and racketeering that the jury found him guilty of.
The Trials of Traficant, Part 5:
James Ridgway de Szigethy can be reached at JAMESDE@prodigy.net.
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