Embattled Traficant clings to his conspiracy defense

Thursday, July 18, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Confrontational to the end, Rep. James Traficant on Wednesday accused House ethics panel lawyers of lying, the federal government of a vendetta and the jury that convicted him of not liking him because of his attitude.

"I've been railroaded once and I'll be damned if I'll be railroaded again," Traficant shouted over the pounding gavel of House Ethics Chairman Joel Hefley, who tried futilely to get the flamboyant Ohio Democrat to calm down.

Traficant, convicted in April by a federal jury of bribery, tax evasion and racketeering, concluded his defense against House ethics violations with rants against people he accused of aligning themselves against him.

He complained bitterly to the eight-member panel about an FBI vendetta. "You're looking at the No. 1 target of the Justice Department, and I hate those bastards, and I think that America's starting to hate them too," Traficant said.

Lawmakers are deciding whether Traficant is guilty of accusations that he engaged in a "continuing pattern and practice of official misconduct" connected to the charges that he was found guilty of after a nine-week trial in Cleveland.

The panel will announce today whether they have made a decision or need more time to deliberate, Hefley said.

Traficant, who has been abrasive to committee lawyers and panel members throughout the hearing, has indicated he expects to be found guilty again.

"God almighty here. What happened to me in Cleveland is what's happening to me here," Traficant shouted. "I infuriated a jury that convicted me over my attitude without a damn bit of evidence."

Prosecutors have recommended he serve at least 7-1/4 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for July 30.

Traficant, who is not a lawyer, defended himself both in court and before his peers against charges that he took kickbacks from employees, encouraged the destruction of evidence, solicited bribes and other gifts from businessmen and filed false income tax returns.

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