Traficant Gets Eight Years in Prison

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washingtonpost.com

Traficant Gets Eight Years in Prison

By Paul Singer
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, July 30, 2002; 1:30 PM

CLEVELAND ? James A. Traficant Jr., the maverick Democrat convicted of corruption charges and then kicked out of Congress, was sentenced Tuesday to eight years in prison for accepting bribes and kickbacks.

Defiant throughout his trial and ethics hearings, he earlier had filed to run for a 10th term in November as an independent, despite the threat of imprisonment and expulsion.

U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells refused the former congressman's request for bond pending appeal, saying he had threatened federal investigators and had violated his bond by making a brief trip to Pennsylvania.

After a raucous trial lasting about 2½ months, Traficant was convicted April 11 of 10 counts of bribery, tax evasion and racketeering. He was found guilty of requiring staff members to do personal chores for him and kick back a portion of their paychecks and of accepting cash bribes and various favors from businessmen who were seeking his help in Washington.

Wells gave Traficant a longer sentence than the minimum 7¼ years prosecutors had requested, saying he had no respect for the government and that he used lies to distract attention from the charges against him.

Wells said Traficant abused the public's trust, reduced public confidence in government, obstructed justice and took a leadership role in recruiting people to further his scheme.

She also told Traficant, 61, that he believes he is above the law.

"You've done a lot of good in your years in Congress," she told him. "The good you have done does not excuse you of the crime you were convicted of."

Traficant accused the judge of aiding the prosecution and complained that he wasn't allowed to argue during the trial that the government has a vendetta against him.

"Why did you tie my hands behind my back?" he asked Wells as she sentenced him. Wells then ordered him to sit down.

Earlier Monday, Wells rejected Traficant's argument that he should not be sanctioned because he has already been punished by expulsion from the House. Traficant had argued that a prison sentence would amount to double jeopardy or being punished twice for the same crime.

Wells agreed with prosecutors, who had argued in a motion that Traficant's expulsion "was not criminal punishment." They argued that if such a motion were upheld, no expelled member of Congress could ever be tried.

Traficant was mostly quiet during the hearing until he abruptly stood up and told Wells he wanted to dismiss the attorney he hired to represent him at the sentencing.

"Take your things and move," he told the attorney, Richard Hackerd, who then switched chairs with Traficant.

Dozens of reporters surrounded Traficant as he arrived on the courthouse steps. He would only repeat, "All of Ohio and America knows I've been railroaded."

Since his conviction in April, the Youngstown Democrat has filed a flurry of motions seeking to have his conviction overturned. On Monday, Wells dismissed his request for a new trial, saying a witness who said the government pressured him to lie in the case did not provide evidence.

Although he is not a lawyer, Traficant defended himself both before jurors and fellow lawmakers, insisting he was innocent and the victim of a government vendetta. He hired Hackerd only to represent him for the sentencing.

He defended himself in 1983 when he won a racketeering case in which he was accused of taking mob money while Mahoning County sheriff. He also said his efforts in Congress to limit the powers of the IRS made him a target.

During the trial and House hearings, Traficant mounted a loud, sometimes comic and frequently vulgar defense. Often dressed in his trademark denim suits, bell-bottom pants and battered cowboy boots, with a mop of unkempt gray hair, he argued that witnesses had lied under pressure from prosecutors.

© 2002 The Associated Press
 


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