By MALIA RULON, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - A House panel on Thursday found Rep. Jim Traficant guilty of ethics violations stemming from his conviction on bribery, tax evasion and fraud, moving the flamboyant Ohio congressman a step closer to being expelled from the House.
The decision means the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct must now decide whether the violations are serious enough to recommend expelling Traficant (pictured, above) or whether the House should accept a lesser punishment.
If expelled, Traficant would become only the second member of Congress to be kicked out since the Civil War.
"Mr. Chair, I request you go light," Traficant asked the committee chairman, Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., saying he was very disappointed that the panel took his Cleveland conviction "and stamp it as being a decision of truthfulness."
"I don't know what they're going to do," Traficant said after the verdict. "They're probably going to expel me. I don't blame them."
An eight-member subcommittee of the panel found Traficant guilty of nine of the 10 ethics violations. The full 10-member committee said that it would decide later Thursday whether to recommend whether the House should expel him or decide upon a lesser punishment.
Traficant told onlookers at his hearing that he plans to wear a denim suit and do a "Michael Jackson moonwalk" on the House floor if he ends up defending himself against expulsion in front of the full 435-member House.
Expulsion requires the approval of two-thirds of the House. The only other member who has been kicked out since the Civil War was Rep. Michael Myers, D-Pa., who was expelled in 1980 for accepting money from undercover FBI agents posing as Arab sheiks seeking favors from Congress.
The decision came after Traficant put on a defiant defense, telling the ethics panel that he'd rather die in jail than confess to something he didn't do.
Traficant was convicted in April by a federal jury of bribery, tax evasion and racketeering. The question before his fellow lawmakers was whether he also was guilty of violating congressional rules.
The committee did dismiss one of the counts against Traficant, an allegation that the other charges represented a "continuing pattern" of misconduct.
Traficant entered the hearing room with a devil-may-care attitude, apparently expecting the worst. He complained about the lack of coffee at his table, threatened to ask the full House to expel the members of the ethics committee and joked with his Ohio colleagues, Reps. Steve LaTourette and Stephanie Tubbs Jones, who sat on the panel.
"You know, Mr. Latourette, you could take better care of your neighbor," he complained.
The subcommittee did not reveal how each lawmaker voted on the counts.
A House ethics subcommittee has been deliberating since Wednesday. The ethics accusations mirror the charges that Traficant was found guilty of after a nine-week trial in Cleveland.
Prosecutors have recommended he serve at least 7-1/4 years in prison on the criminal charges. Sentencing is scheduled for July 30.
The 61-year-old Traficant, who is not a lawyer, defended himself in court and before his peers against accusations that he took kickbacks from employees, encouraged the destruction of evidence, solicited bribes and other gifts from businessmen and filed false income tax returns.
Committee lawyer Paul Lewis repeatedly called on the House members to use their common sense to find Traficant guilty, "like the jury did in this criminal trial where they found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."
But 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. Traficant, who was a county sheriff at the time, used the victory to propel himself to Congress in 1984.
Traficant was abrasive to committee lawyers and panel members throughout three days of hearings, and became so enraged during Lewis' closing statement that he began to shout objections.