Supporters Mobilize To Help Jailed Ex-Congressman

By PAUL SINGER, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - Supporters of former U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant are rallying to his aid while he waits in a county jail for assignment to a federal prison.

Traficant, convicted in April of 10 counts of bribery, racketeering and tax evasion, was sentenced Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells to eight years in prison. He was sent to Summit County Jail to await transfer to a federal prison.

The House of Representatives voted to expel him last week based on the same charges -- that he took bribes from Youngstown businessmen and kickbacks from staff members.

Traficant (pictured, above) defended himself during his trail but has appointed a legal team for his appeal.

Columbus attorneys Lloyd Pierre-Louis and Percy Squire filed an appeal late Tuesday challenging both Traficant's conviction and Wells' refusal to release the former congressman on bond.

Monday night, Traficant also named Youngstown attorney Mark Colucci to his legal team. Colucci field a brief Tuesday morning outlining a broad pattern of wrongdoing by the FBI and other federal officials.

The House Government Reform Committee has investigated corrupt activity by the FBI's Boston office reaching back several decades.

Colucci said he asked the committee also to investigate the government's handling of Traficant's case.

Traficant has long maintained he was the victim of a government vendetta, and that FBI agents threatened potential witnesses and told people to lie to help convict him.

Meanwhile, fans of the former congressman are filing complaints to the U.S. Court of Appeals about Wells' performance in the trial.

Mary Clare Wohlford, a former Reform Party activist from Pulaski, Va., has created a pro-Traficant Web site that teaches people how to file a formal complaint against Wells.

On Wednesday, Wohlford's site registered 8,253 hits. Before the trial it was less than 1,500, she said.

"Everybody wants to know what they can do," Wohlford said. "The people that saw the C-SPAN hearings (conducted by the House ethics committee) realize that it was a railroad job."

Wohlford, who said she met Traficant briefly at a few Reform Party events but does not know him personally, said supporters have filed more than 300 petitions accusing Wells of favoring the government in the trail and blocking Traficant's defense.

Dean Caputo, Traficant's friend, has volunteered to serve as his liaison to the press since the congressional staff was barred from doing work for Traficant.

Caputo said he has been deluged by media calls, but Traficant is not giving interviews.

"The poor guy's been running ragged," Caputo said. "I just told him to relax."

Marilyn Crossman, 67, of Tacoma, Wash., said she did not know about Traficant until she saw the ethics committee hearings on C-SPAN, but she believes Traficant was treated unfairly.

"He probably wouldn't have been expelled if he dressed a little more like the other guys, in a three piece suit." she said.

Crossman said she has called her congressman -- Democrat Norman Dicks -- and wrote a letter to Wells expressing her concern that Traficant is being persecuted because he speaks his mind.

"I hope he gets a new trial," she said.

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, said public interest in Traficant would dwindle with him in prison and out of the limelight.

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

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