May 5, 2001
Rep. Traficant indicted on bribery count
By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley News Service
WASHINGTON — Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., the flamboyant and combative lawmaker from eastern Ohio steel country, was indicted Friday by a federal grand jury on multiple charges including bribery, obstructing justice, racketeering and tax evasion.
In a 10-count, 41-page indictment, prosecutors allege the Youngstown-area Democrat took bribes from contractors to help them get federal contracts, directed members of his congressional staff to fix his Washington, D.C., boat and bale hay at his
Greenford, Ohio, farm, and required a staff attorney to pay him $2,500 a month in exchange for the congressman’s leasing office space from him.
Traficant, 59, has been predicting his indictment for more than a year. During that time, he has lambasted the Justice Department and has claimed that FBI agents are on the mob payroll.
Prosecutors said all the charges are for events that occurred since 1984, when Traficant first was elected to Congress.
The maverick lawmaker has become known for his “one-minute” speeches on the House floor, in which he usually includes the phrase “beam me up” from the original “Star Trek” television series. His
congressional Web site depicts him swinging a board with the caption, “bangin’ away in D.C.”
The latest indictment marks the second time Traficant has faced federal charges. When he was Mahoning County sheriff in 1983, a jury acquitted him of taking more than $100,000 in bribes from
mobsters. Representing himself, even though he was not an attorney, Traficant admitted taking payoffs but said he was conducting his own sting operation.
Traficant, who lives in Poland, Ohio, lost a subsequent fight with the Internal Revenue Service over whether he owed taxes on the payoffs.
Federal officials would not say how long they have been investigating Traficant. Since late 1997, a federal probe of corruption in the Mahoning Valley has resulted in the convictions of more than 70 people, including several judges, a prosecutor, a
sheriff, a county engineer and a Traficant aide who has since died, a Justice Department spokesman said.
Indicted in the latest round with Traficant is John J. Cafaro, 49, of Hubbard, Ohio, who is charged with conspiracy to bribe a public official.
Prosecutors said Cafaro agreed to give Traficant thousands of dollars in cash and services in exchange for the congressman’s help in getting the Federal Aviation Administration to certify laser-guidance technology sold by a company Cafaro was affiliated with.
Among the charges against Traficant is that he intervened with federal, state and local officials to get contracts for Anthony R. Bucci and Robert T. Bucci, owners of an asphalt paving business, in return for the Buccis’ paying an employee to work at Traficant’s farm for six months.
He also is accused of helping the son of Arthur David Sugar Sr., president of a construction firm, to obtain a reduced sentence on a drunken-driving conviction in return for the repair of drainage systems, removal of trees and spreading of gravel at his farm. Although the congressman gave Sugar an “unsolicited” check for $1,142, it was “significantly less” than the value of the work performed, the indictment said.
Lawmakers in neighboring districts expressed sympathy for Traficant, who has voted increasingly with the GOP despite his party label.
“He’s a friend of mine, and it’s going to be trying times for him, but I want him to know he’s a champion player,” said Rep. Bob Ney, R-St. Clairsville. A fellow supporter of the steel industry, Ney said Traficant “always helped me and my constituents and their causes.”
Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Akron, issued a statement saying, “I feel bad for Jim, and I hope for his sake and those he represents there is a clear and definitive resolution to this matter soon.”
As a House member, Traficant faces no immediate consequences from the indictment. House rules prohibit lawmakers convicted of serious crimes from voting or sitting on committees, but they do not apply to those who have been charged.
Traficant does not sit on any committees because the Democratic leadership refused to assign him to any after he voted for Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., to be House speaker.
His case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Lesley Wells in Cleveland, but no date has been set for arraignment. Although the full set of charges carries up to 63 years in prison, federal sentencing guidelines likely would result in a lesser sentence.
Neither Traficant nor his staff returned phone calls seeking comment on the indictment. The congressman’s aides said they would issue a statement but had not done so by the end of the day Friday.