CONGRESSMAN indicted on racketeering, other charges

Saturday, May 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CLEVELAND (AP) _ Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. didn't back off from his usual brashness in the face of a federal indictment accusing him of selling political favors and making office employees work his farm.

Traficant successfully defended himself in a racketeering case 18 years ago, and he said he's ready do it again _ even though he isn't an attorney.

``I have had a bull's-eye on my back ever since I defeated the Department of Justice, being the only American in United States history to have defeated the Justice Department,'' Traficant said Friday.

Even before the indictment was issued, he was warning prosecutors: ``You'd best defeat me, because if I beat you, you'll be working in Mingo Junction,'' a remote Ohio town.

The 10 charges against Traficant include racketeering, conspiring to commit bribery, obstructing justice, seeking and accepting illegal gratuities, conspiring to defraud the United States, and filing a false tax return.

Traficant, 59, declared the charges were brought by ``overzealous bureaucrats'' who employed ``pressure and intimidation.''

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Morford declined to comment.

The Justice Department has been probing public corruption in the Youngstown area, which Traficant represents, for years.

Since 1997, more than 70 people have been convicted, including a judge, a prosecutor, a sheriff and a Traficant aide who has since died. The case Traficant won in 1983 involved charges accusing him of accepting mob bribes while he was sheriff in Youngstown.

Traficant, an outspoken Democrat whose theatrics and loud suits set him apart amid Washington's pinstripes, was re-elected in November to his ninth two-year term in a blue-collar district along the Ohio-Pennsylvania line. He defected from his party in the vote for House speaker and hasn't received committee assignments since.

Traficant also has been on a crusade against the Justice Department. He has made corruption accusations against the FBI, former Attorney General Janet Reno and federal prosecutors in Ohio. He took to the House floor last year and vowed to ``fight like a junkyard dog'' against any federal charge him.

He has repeatedly said he was a target of federal authorities and expected to be indicted.

The indictment issued Friday accuses Traficant of, among other things, getting a kickback from a staff member's pay, arranging for his office employees to work at his farm and selling his boat for $26,000 to a businessman seeking lobbying help.

It alleges that after the boat was purchased, Traficant contacted the Federal Aviation Administration and voiced support for aircraft landing technology developed by the businessman's company, U.S. Aerospace Group of Manassas, Va. The businessman, John J. Cafaro, was charged Friday with conspiracy to commit bribery.

``My conduct crossed the line between permissible, legitimate lobbying and unlawful conduct, and I accept full responsibility for my actions,'' Cafaro said in a prepared statement.

The racketeering count against Traficant contains several specific allegations of bribery and mail fraud, including making three of his office workers bale hay, run and repair farm equipment and build a horse corral at his farm near Poland as part of their jobs.

The indictment also alleges Traficant and his wife did not report all of their income in 1998 and 1999, and it accuses Traficant of receiving free labor and materials for work a paving contractor did at the farm. It says Traficant contacted prison authorities to help one of the contractor's owners who served a prison term on an unrelated matter.

If convicted on all 10 charges, Traficant could be sentenced to 63 years in prison and fined $2.2 million.