Traficant Denies Charges In Questioning Before House Panel

By JESSE J. HOLLAND, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - Insisting on his innocence, Rep. James Traficant on Tuesday loudly and defiantly told a House panel considering whether to recommend his expulsion that the federal government railroaded him into a bribery, fraud and tax evasion conviction.

"I have enough sense to realize what's going on," Traficant shouted from behind a table where he sat alone in his defense, fighting the possibility of becoming only the second House member since the Civil War to be kicked out. "They railroaded the hell out of me and they're doing it to millions of people around the country and the country's fed up with it."

Traficant, D-Ohio, was convicted in April of taking kickbacks from employees and soliciting bribes and other gifts from businessmen. During a nine-week trial in Cleveland, Traficant (pictured, above) also defended himself without a lawyer.

Prosecutors have recommended he serve at least 7¼ years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for July 30.

"I will probably go to jail, but you know what? There's a lot of good people who go to jail," Traficant said during a break in the hearing.

Answering questions for the first time on the charges, the 61-year-old Traficant insisted that all of the witnesses in the criminal trial lied and were forced to do so under threat of reprisal by the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service.

The nine-term lawmaker has complained about a government vendetta since he beat the FBI in a bribery case in 1983, also while defending himself.

During several exchanges with the eight-member panel of the House ethics committee, Traficant denied that a former staff member, Allen Sinclair, gave him $2,500 in cash each month, as Sinclair testified in the criminal trial.

"Did you know what that $2,500 was for?" asked Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill.

"I didn't get $2,500 a month," Traficant said.

"Did anyone leave an envelope under your door?" she continued.

"No, they did not. If anyone wanted to give me $2,500, why wouldn't they just give it to me?" Traficant asked.

"Would you have this committee believe that it was coincidence that the $2,500 cash withdrawals stopped about the time the FBI contacted Mr. Sinclair?" asked Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo. "Is that what you would have this committee believe?"

"I don't deal in coincidences. I deal in facts," Traficant responded during the questioning.

"What you're saying is the only reason why they said what they said about you is that they're part of an effort by the FBI and the IRS to put you away?" said Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio.

"They got a get-out-of-jail free card," Traficant said.

"They got a get-out-of-jail-free card because the IRS and the Justice Department or the FBI were after you?" Tubbs Jones asked.

"Absolutely," he said.

Testifying on Traficant's behalf, staff member Linda Kovachik said she was never asked to give him kickbacks.

"Why would anyone take a job and kick money back? That's ridiculous," she said. "I'm embarrassed anyone would say that about the congressman."

Sandy Ferrante, who lived at Traficant's family horse farm for 17 years, said she never saw any illegal dealings.

"A lot of people lied through their teeth under oath," she said.

Committee Chairman Joel Hefley, R-Colo., allowed Traficant to joke and rant against former Attorney General Janet Reno, the IRS, the federal courts and the Justice Department.

"I have felt that he needs to have the leeway to put on the best defense he thinks he can put on," Hefley told reporters. "I don't think it will work, but I would like for him to go away from here feeling, however it comes out, that it's fair, that he's had a fair opportunity."

House rules require an ethics panel investigation when a lawmaker is convicted of a felony. The harshest penalty is expulsion, followed by censure, reprimand or fines, all of which require votes by the full 435-member House.

Expulsion requires the approval of two-thirds of the House and is a fate that has befallen only member since the Civil War: Rep. Michael Myers, D-Pa., who was tossed out in 1980 for accepting money from undercover FBI agents posing as Arab sheiks seeking favors from Congress.

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