Traficant Begins 8-Year Jail Term - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Traficant Begins 8-Year Jail Term

By PAUL SINGER, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - An unrepentant James A. Traficant Jr. had to have the last word even as he was being sent to a jail cell in one of the cities he hopes to represent in Congress.

"Quite frankly, I expect to be re-elected," the defiant former congressman told U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells after she sentenced him Tuesday to eight years in prison.

Neither prison nor last week's expulsion from the House of Representatives deterred the Youngstown Democrat from promising to run for Congress from his cell.

"He's prepared to serve his time and he's going to fight on," said Mark Colucci, appointed by Traficant to represent him during his appeal. "And he's going to be on the ballot, and to him, quite frankly it's kind of just another day and he's moving down the road."

Traficant, 61, was led away in handcuffs after Wells refused to let him remain free on bond while he appeals his conviction on 10 counts of bribery, racketeering and tax evasion.

At the sentencing, Traficant (pictured in mug shot, above) accused Wells of aiding prosecutors and complained that he wasn't allowed to use his claim of a government vendetta as a defense.

"Why did you tie my hands behind my back?" he asked Wells, who ordered him to sit down.

Traficant was taken to the Summit County Jail in Akron. The U.S. Marshals office generally holds prisoners at local jails until they are assigned to a federal penitentiary by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

"I think the sentence of eight years compared to the people who were turned loose for testifying against him is a raw deal for our community," Colucci said.

A request to a federal appeals court to release Traficant pending appeal will be made this week in Cincinnati, he said.

Wells gave Traficant a longer sentence than the minimum 7 1/4 years prosecutors had requested. The judge said he had no respect for the government and used lies to distract attention from the charges against him. The judge also ordered him to pay a $150,000 fine on top of the $96,000 the jury required him to forfeit.

Paraphrasing Traficant's repeated refrain that he would fight the charges "like a junk yard dog," Wells said he actually wanted "to protect a junk yard full of deceit and corruption and greed."

She said his constant public statements accusing the government of misconduct are "the drumbeat of the big lie."

Traficant objected in a rage.

"I am not going to be pushed around," he shouted. "I am tired of the diatribes."

He turned to Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Morford, the lead prosecutor in his case. "You should be ashamed of yourself, not me," he said.

"In these types of cases when you have those types of facts, the defendant always goes to jail," Morford said later. "There shouldn't be any exceptions for him for who he is. He should be treated like any other defendant, which is what the judge did today."

After a raucous trial lasting about 2 1/2 months, Traficant was found guilty of requiring staff members to do personal chores for him and kick back a portion of their paychecks and of accepting cash bribes and various favors from businessmen who were seeking his help in Washington.

Although not a lawyer, Traficant defended himself throughout his trial and during the expulsion proceedings in Congress. For his sentencing he was represented by Cleveland lawyer Richard Hackerd, but Traficant fired Hackerd in the middle of the hearing.

Traficant is running for re-election as an independent in the redrawn 17th District in northeast Ohio against Democratic state Sen. Tim Ryan, Republican state Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin and independent Warren Davis, a former labor leader. The Youngstown-area district he has represented since 1984 was eliminated in January by Ohio's Republican-controlled Legislature.

Tom Flynn, a resident of the Youngstown area and a communications professor at Slippery Rock University, predicted that public interest in Traficant would dwindle with him in prison and out of the limelight.

Flynn predicted Traficant, if he remains a candidate for re-election, would "get 10 percent to 15 percent" of the vote.

Flynn said, "He's going to have a very difficult time getting a message out."

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

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