Congressman Facing Bribery Trial Sues Government

By THOMAS J. SHEERAN, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., facing a bribery trial next week, has sued the government for $250 million alleging that his civil rights were violated and asked that the trial be put on hold.

Traficant, a Democrat and non-attorney who plans to defend himself on the criminal charges, filed the complaint late Wednesday in U.S. District Court in his hometown of Youngstown.

He alleged that federal agents conspired against him in retaliation for his acquittal in 1983 on federal corruption charges.

As the result of his acquittal, Traficant (pictured, above) said, federal agents "suffered professional setbacks and personal humiliation, (and) engaged in a long-term vendetta to selectively prosecute" him.

The FBI declined comment and referred the matter to federal prosecutors who handled the Traficant investigation. A message seeking comment was left Thursday for U.S. Attorney Emily M. Sweeney.

In the past, the government has denied any vendetta.

In filings in the criminal case on the same issue, Traficant asked trial U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells to dismiss the indictment against him based on an alleged vendetta.

In a response filed Thursday, government prosecutors called Traficant's repeated claims of a vendetta "vexatious," or annoying, and said he had presented no evidence to support the allegation.

The civil matter was assigned to Judge Peter C. Economus in Youngstown. In Cleveland, Well's staff said Thursday that there was no change in next week's criminal trial schedule.

Traficant said the alleged vendetta had "put a stranglehold" on his finances and had violated his civil rights. The congressman asked for a court order to halt the alleged vendetta and stop the government from proceeding with his trial, which is scheduled to begin in Cleveland on Monday.

Traficant asked for a jury trial on his allegations.

On Tuesday, a judge ruled that Traficant may not claim in his trial that he is a victim of a vendetta or misconduct by federal prosecutors. He had planned to make that a centerpiece of his defense.

Traficant is facing trial on 10 charges that include bribery and racketeering.

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.

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