- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2002

CLEVELAND (AP) Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. was convicted yesterday of taking bribes and kickbacks from businessmen and his own staff after a raucous and often-farcical trial, in which the fiery congressman insisted on serving as his own attorney.

The nine-term Democrat was found guilty of all 10 federal charges he faced, including racketeering, bribery and fraud. The jury also ordered him to forfeit $96,000 in ill-gotten gains.

After each count, the judge asked Traficant, known for his arm-waving speeches on the House floor, if he wanted the jurors to restate their verdict.

"No," Traficant replied softly with uncharacteristic meekness, standing with his hands folded in front of him.

He later told the jury the evidence was circumstantial and the trial was "a very unfair process." But he added: "I accept your verdict."

Outside the courthouse, Traficant told reporters he didn't think he had much of a chance on appeal, but would represent himself if he did: "I'm not going to spend half a million dollars for the same decision."

Traficant faces up to 63 years in prison at sentencing June 27, but will probably receive a much shorter term under federal guidelines. He could be fined hundreds of thousands of dollars. He remained free on bail.

The Ohioan could also be expelled from the House, something that has happened only once since the Civil War. His felony conviction triggered an automatic investigation by the Standards of Official Conduct Committee.

Expulsion requires the approval of two-thirds of the 435-member House, and has happened only once in the last 141 years. The pressure on Traficant began to mount yesterday as House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt called for him to leave the House voluntarily.

In a statement, the Missouri Democrat acknowledged that House procedures were under way, but added that "in light of the gravity of the charges outlined in the guilty verdict against Mr. Traficant, I think the prudent course of action would be an immediate resignation."

Traficant, who already has lost his committee assignments because of Democrat anger over his vote to elect Republican J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois as speaker, angrily said he would not resign.

"I still have some rights as an American," Traficant said. "I've never been a quitter. I'm not going to quit now."

Traficant's Youngstown-area district was eliminated in redistricting this year, but he has said he would run as an independent in a neighboring district.

The 60-year-old congressman contended the government was out to get him because he single-handedly beat the FBI in a racketeering case 19 years ago, when he was a Mahoning County sheriff accused of taking mob money.

He quickly became known for his unruly hair, loud wardrobe and tempestuous floor speeches that often ended with an exasperated "Beam me up," a phrase popularized by TV's "Star Trek."

Among the charges against him this time were filing false tax returns and receiving gifts and free labor from businessmen in return for his political help. He also took cash kickbacks and free labor on his houseboat and at his horse farm from members of his staff.

Prosecutors called 55 witnesses to testify against Traficant and submitted as evidence bank records showing large cash deposits. They also produced a briefcase stuffed with $24,500 in cash that one witness said the congressman asked him to hide.

Former Traficant staff member Allen Sinclair testified that he was hired under an agreement that he give his boss $2,500 in cash each month.

In addition, Traficant had office workers bale hay, fix farm equipment and build a corral at his farm.

Traficant said many of the government's witnesses had previously lied under oath or struck deals to testify. He also argued that helping local businesses was part of his job.

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