Traficant Cannot Claim Government Vendetta As Defense

By PAUL SINGER, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - A judge ruled Tuesday that U.S. Rep. James Traficant (pictured, right) may not claim in his upcoming corruption trial that he is a victim of a vendetta or misconduct by federal prosecutors -- a claim the Ohio Democrat had said would be the centerpiece of his defense.

Traficant, facing trial Monday on 10 charges that include bribery and racketeering, has argued that he has been unfairly singled out for prosecution by the government because he successfully defended himself against racketeering charges in 1983.

He earlier told the court that if U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells barred him from using the claim of a vendetta and misconduct, it would leave him with "no witnesses, no defense."

Traficant, who is in his ninth-term, is accused of accepting gifts and favors from businessmen in exchange for lobbying federal agencies on behalf of their companies. If convicted of all charges, he could face a maximum penalty of more than 60 years in prison and $2 million in fines.

He denies the charges and had said that he would "condemn, criticize and denounce the selective enforcement before, during, and even after the trial if necessary."

But Wells said Traficant may not raise selective enforcement as part of his defense.

"A criminal defendant who believes that he is the victim of selective or vindictive prosecution has a remedy available to him before trial: He can present a motion to dismiss the charges against him," she said. Traficant had not done so.

In addition, Wells said, "Trials are about the guilt and innocence of the defendant, not about what the government has or has not done."

Traficant -- who is not a lawyer but is representing himself -- will be allowed to cross-examine witnesses about promises the government made in exchange for their testimony, but he will need to provide evidence for any allegation of government misconduct, Wells ruled.

The judge said he will not be allowed to refer to his past trial unless he can prove to her -- without the jury present -- that the references are relevant to his defense.

Traficant spokesman Charles Straub did not return a call seeking comment on Tuesday's ruling.

Referring to himself as "Pro Se Defendant," Traficant wrote in a Jan. 17 motion that "having defeated the Department of Justice in a RICO trial, Pro Se has been a 'trophy' for the Justice Department for many years."

The judge denied government motions to exclude from trial any reference to Traficant's previous law-abiding behavior. But Wells said, "evidence of non-criminal conduct is generally irrelevant" when a defendant is charged with a specific act.

Traficant represents the Youngstown area in the 17th District, which was eliminated in the state's redistricting. Traficant has said he still intends to run for re-election, and he has until Feb. 21 to declare his candidacy in a new congressional district.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)