One day after corruption conviction, Ohio congressman says he'll run for re-election

Friday, April 12th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CLEVELAND (AP) _ One day after a federal jury found him guilty of bribery, racketeering and tax evasion, Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. said Friday he will run for re-election and appeal the verdict.

The nine-term Democrat was convicted Thursday on all 10 federal charges he faced, including taking kickbacks from staff and bribes and gifts from businessmen. The jury also ordered him to forfeit $96,000 in ill-gotten gains from racketeering spanning more than a decade.

The charges carry a maximum penalty of 63 years in jail, though under federal sentencing guidelines, he is likely to get a much lighter sentence at the hearing June 27.

He also could face an additional $2 million in fines for the non-racketeering charges in the indictment.

House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt called on Traficant to resign from Congress, but Traficant made it clear Friday that he had no intention to comply.

``I have no plans to resign, and I intend to run as an independent in November for the 17th District of Ohio.'' Traficant said. ``I will not allow the government to get rid of Jim Traficant without a fight.''

Traficant's congressional district was eliminated by the Legislature in a redistricting plan earlier this year. The lifelong Democrat announced in February that he would not run in the May 7 party primary against Rep. Tom Sawyer and five other candidates; he has until May 6 to formally file to run as an independent.

Traficant could return to Capitol Hill while awaiting sentencing, but House rules bar any House member convicted of a felony from voting on legislation. Re-election would restore that voting right.

The House Ethics Committee said it will consider disciplining Traficant, with possible penalties including expulsion, censure, reprimand and fines. Only once since the Civil War has a congressman been expelled from the House by his colleagues.

``At the heart of all public service is personal integrity,'' Gephardt said. ``A member of Congress who breaks the law betrays the public trust and brings discredit to the House of Representatives.''

The jury in Traficant's trial concluded that several Youngstown businessmen provided free work on the congressman's houseboat and horse farm. Traficant, in exchange, lobbied state and federal regulators on their behalf, the jurors found.

They also found him guilty of requiring some staff members to pay him a portion of their salaries and making others work at his farm on government time.

Traficant told the jury the evidence was circumstantial and the trial was ``a very unfair process.'' But he added: ``I accept your verdict.''

Traficant, who is not an attorney, represented himself in the 10-week trial and often was chastised by U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells for not following procedure. On several occasions he shouted at witnesses, government attorneys and the judge.

The 60-year-old congressman contended the government was out to get him because he beat the FBI in a racketeering case 19 years ago, when he was a Mahoning County sheriff accused of taking mob money. He successfully argued that he was conducting an undercover sting operation.

The acquittal made him something of a local folk hero and helped get him elected to Congress. He quickly became known for his unruly hair, loud wardrobe and tempestuous floor speeches in which he railed against the Justice Department and the IRS.

In Traficant's latest trial, prosecutors submitted as evidence bank records showing large cash deposits. They also produced a briefcase stuffed with $24,500 in cash that one witness said the congressman asked him to hide.

Former Traficant staff member Allen Sinclair testified that he was hired under an agreement that he give his boss $2,500 in cash each month.

By Traficant's own admission, the trial was no ``walk in the park.'' His examination of witnesses frequently ended up damaging his case, and he often clashed with the judge. In his statement Friday, Traficant said, ``I will appeal the verdict because the judge very clearly mishandled this case and was prejudiced toward the government's case from day one.''

Jury forewoman Helen Knipp, 63, said it appeared that Traficant ``felt he was a congressman and was above it all.''

``He was trying to confuse us,'' Knipp said. ``He didn't succeed.''