Ohio jury deliberating bribery case against Rep. James Traficant

Tuesday, April 9th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CLEVELAND (AP) _ In deciding the corruption case of U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., jurors must weigh whether the congressman was the victim of a government vendetta, as he claims, or if he accepted kickbacks and gifts for his political help, as prosecutors contend.

The blustery, nine-term congressman declared in closing arguments Monday, ``There's not one damn bit of evidence that anybody gave me any money.'' But federal prosecutor Craig Morford disputed the claim and described a long list of bribes, gifts and favors that Traficant is accused of taking.

Jurors deliberated Monday for about three hours before breaking for the night; they were to resume Tuesday.

Traficant, a Democrat known for his arm-waving tirades on the House floor against the IRS and the FBI, is accused of taking kickbacks from staff members and accepting gifts and free labor from businessmen in exchange for his political help. He also is accused of filing false tax returns.

The charges against the 60-year-old congressman carry up to 63 years in prison. However, he probably would receive a much shorter sentence if he is convicted of all 10 counts because of federal sentencing guidelines.

Morford said Traficant has offered no explanation for the testimony and evidence against him, which includes letters and a bundle of cash, except that ``everything is a coincidence or some nefarious conspiracy.''

The prosecutor said that while Traficant may have been an effective congressman, he is not above the law.

``He can't use his public office as a trough to feed his personal appetite,'' Morford told the jury.

During his closing arguments, Traficant argued that without tapes or photographs of him committing crimes, the only evidence against him was the testimony of witnesses who have pleaded guilty to other crimes and could be manipulated by the government.

Traficant's defense lasted two weeks and involved 30 witnesses, following about six weeks of 55 prosecution witnesses.

The judge limited the testimony of many of Traficant's witnesses, preventing them from presenting secondhand testimony or discussing allegations of government wrongdoing.

Traficant told reporters outside the courthouse that he believes the judge violated his rights and has given him grounds for appeal if he is found guilty. But he said, ``I feel that I would have no shot on any appeal because I have been targeted for many years.''

Morford refused to comment on the case.

``When the jury comes back, that'll speak volumes,'' he said.