Support Continues For Traficant Despite Conviction

By JOE MILICIA, Associated Press Writer

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (AP) - U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr.'s conviction on racketeering, bribery and fraud charges hasn't diminished his support in this city that elected him to Congress nine times.

At least one resident thinks voters will try to re-elect Traficant even if his name doesn't appear on the November ballot.

"These people will write him in. Trust me," said Ron Ditullio, who added that he's never voted for the blustery congressman.

Traficant's conviction Thursday drew continued support as well as criticism in the city where he had become a folk hero.

Longtime supporter Brian Fry, 32, said he was "disappointed" by the verdict from the federal jury in Cleveland.

"I'm surprised he didn't get off on at least a couple counts," said Fry, a bartender at the Draught House. Fry said federal prosecutors proved at least some of the charges against Traficant.

However, "If you look at the other 534 members of Congress, I think you could convict each one of them on some of the things that Jim did," Fry said. "In my opinion, they all do favors, especially for the powerful and influential people who donate money to their campaigns."

Charges against Traficant included filing false tax returns and receiving gifts and free labor from businessmen in return for his political help. He also took cash kickbacks -- and free labor on his houseboat and at his horse farm -- from members of his staff. He defended himself, though he is not a lawyer.

In 1983, as Mahoning County sheriff, Traficant defended himself in a federal racketeering case and convinced a jury that the money he took from the mob was part of a sting operation he was running to bust organized crime. That victory helped propel him to Congress in 1984.

His reputation through the years as a maverick has endeared him to his blue-collar district that includes the counties of Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana. At the microphone on the House floor, he can be counted on for his blistering rhetoric and his trademark statement of disgust: "Beam me up!"

"I'd like to see him go to prison for 50 years. He did nothing for the community. He killed us," said Dan Miller, 44, a lifelong Youngstown resident who said he never voted for Traficant. "They should have got him in 1983. He got what he deserves."

Joseph Gray, 73, of Youngstown, said he voted for Traficant the first eight times he ran for Congress. Now, he wants him to step down.

"He can't help us any more. He's hurt us enough," Gray said.

Traficant wanted the jury in his trial to include people from his Youngstown-area district and was upset that the judge would only allow people from the Cleveland area to sit on the 12-member panel.

Mike Patrick, 44, of nearby Struthers, said he thought the jury delivered a strong statement to the congressman.

"I didn't think he was guilty on all the charges. Evidently, they saw into it pretty deep and felt he was guilty," Patrick said.

He said with only eight months left on Traficant's term, the congressman should resign.

"If he's sincere about representing the people correctly, he should resign. We need some help around here," Patrick said.

Sisters Melissa Domenick, 32, and Rose Chaney, 31, spent Thursday night bowling in suburban Youngstown and were split in their support. The women said they grew up near Traficant's farm in northeast Ohio.

"He's a real nice guy. I feel bad about it. I believe he did a lot of things he shouldn't have done, but he's still a good guy," Domenick said.

Chaney said, "He deserved what he got. The prosecutors proved their case. We need somebody new."

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