Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Judge sentences Traficant to eight years in prison

Maverick congressman defiant to the end

By Paul Singer
Associated Press Writer

        CLEVELAND — Expelled from Congress a week ago, an unrepentant James A. Traficant Jr. was sentenced to eight years behind bars for corruption Tuesday and made it clear he intends to run for re-election from his prison cell — and expects to win.

        “Quite frankly, I expect to be re-elected,” the pugnacious former congressman told U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells after she imposed sentence.

        The 61-year-old former House member was then led off to jail in handcuffs after Wells refused to let him remain free on bail while he appeals his conviction.

        Traficant was taken to the Summitt County Jail in Akron, one of the cities in the new congressional district he hopes to represent. The U.S. Marshals office generally holds prisoners at local jails until they are assigned to a federal penitentiary by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

        In April, he was convicted of 10 counts of bribery, racketeering and tax evasion.

        Wells gave Traficant a longer sentence than the minimum 7 1/4 years prosecutors had requested, saying he had no respect for the government and used lies to distract attention from the charges against him. The judge also ordered him to pay a $150,000 fine on top of the $96,000 the jury required him to forfeit.

        Wells also told Traficant that he believes he is above the law.

        Paraphrasing Traficant's repeated refrain that he would fight the charges “like a junk yard dog,” Wells said he did so “to protect a junk yard full of deceit and corruption and greed.”

        She said his constant public statements accusing the government of misconduct are “the drumbeat of the big lie.”

        Traficant objected in a rage. “I am not going to be pushed around,” he shouted. “I am tired of the diatribes.”

        He turned to Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Morford and other government officials and repeated his oft-stated claim of witness intimidation.

        “You should be ashamed of yourself, not me,” he said. “You're a bunch of damn crooks!”

        Traficant is running for re-election as an independent in the redrawn 17th District in northeast Ohio against Democratic state Sen. Tim Ryan, Republican state Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin and independent Warren Davis, a former labor leader. The Youngstown-area district he has represented since 1984 was eliminated in January by Ohio's Republican-controlled Legislature.

        Wells refused Traficant's request to release him on bond pending his appeal of his convictions.

        She said Traficant had threatened federal investigators and violated his bond by making a brief trip to Pennsylvania, a few miles from his northeast Ohio congressional district, to interview a witness in the case without the court's permission.

        Wells said Traficant knew that the trip violated his bond.

        She rejected his request that he be allowed to go free to put his house and his papers in order.

        Traficant looked stunned as U.S. Marshals with whom he kidded throughout the trial placed his hands behind his back and handcuffed him.

        As he was led away, he turned to a bench of his supporters and said sardonically, “See ya, kids.”

        Morford welcomed the judge's decision.

        “In these types of cases when you have those types of facts, the defendant always goes to jail,” he said. “There shouldn't be any exceptions for him for who he is. He should be treated like any other defendant, which is what the judge did today.”

        Mark Colucci, appointed by Traficant to represent him during his appeal, said he will ask the U.S. Court of Appeals to free Traficant while he appeals his conviction.


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