House Ethics Committee Accuses Traficant Of Misconduct

By MALIA RULON, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - The House ethics committee issued a 10-count list of alleged violations Thursday against convicted Rep. James Traficant and set a public hearing for next month.

The charges allege that the Ohio lawmaker engaged in a "continuing pattern and practice of official misconduct," including acceptance of kickbacks, encouraging the destruction of evidence, defrauding the United States and filing false income tax returns.

The eight-member panel said it would hold a public hearing July 15 to determine whether any of the charges "have been proven by clear and convincing evidence." The panel includes fellow Ohio Reps. Steven LaTourette, a Republican, and Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a Democrat.

Issuing charges against Traficant moved the ethics committee closer to recommending a punishment, which could include expulsion from Congress.

Expulsion is the most severe punishment and has happened to only one congressman in the last 141 years. Such action would require the approval of two-thirds of the 435-member House.

Traficant has called repeatedly for a public hearing, during which he has said he will present the ethics committee with taped conversations that were barred from his bribery trial by a federal judge.

He claimed the audiotapes prove that witnesses against him were bullied into testifying by the federal government. The judge ruled that since the people Traficant taped were available to testify in person, there was no reason to play the taped conversations.

Traficant's spokesman, Charles Straub, said the congressman plans to "put on a vigorous defense." He said Traficant, who is not a lawyer, probably would represent himself at the hearing with help from one or more attorneys. Traficant also represented himself at his recent trial.

"Although the congressman is not pleased that he has to appear before the ethics committee, I think he would be satisfied by the committee's decision to make this hearing public," Straub said.

As part of an unusual, informal agreement, the Ohio lawmaker has not has appeared on the House floor since his conviction on bribery and racketeering charges in April. In exchange, critics have refrained from seeking his immediate expulsion.

The committee's alleged violations of ethics rules are based on the testimony and evidence at Traficant's trial in Cleveland, and members of an investigative subcommittee noted they decided not to launch a time-consuming investigation into other potential violations of House rules.

Traficant, serving his ninth term from the northeast Ohio district around Youngstown, faces up to 63 years in prison at a court sentencing set for July 30.

A judge this week rejected Traficant's request for a new trial, and a former aide pleaded guilty to a single count of perjury for lying to a grand jury when he denied giving kickbacks to the lawmaker. Henry DiBlasio, 72, who worked for Traficant from 1985-1998, could get up to 16 months in prison.

Traficant's district was eliminated as the result of congressional redistricting in Ohio this spring, but he has announced plans to seek a new term as an independent in a newly redrawn seat.

Also this week, Ohio's two Republican senators recommended Craig S. Morford, the man who prosecuted Traficant's case in federal court in Cleveland, as one of three candidates to be the next U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.

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