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Traficant convicted

By
JONATHAN JAY GIBIAN

CLEVELAND, April 11 (UPI) -- A federal court jury Thursday found colorful Ohio Rep. James Traficant guilty on corruption charges.

The nine-term Youngstown Democrat was convicted of bribery, racketeering, tax evasion, obstruction of justice and fraud for accepting kickbacks from employees and free work from businessmen in exchange for his help in Washington.

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The jury of 10 women and two men delivered guilty verdicts on all 10 counts. Traficant faces a possible 63 years in prison and expulsion from Congress.

After returning the verdicts, the jurors began deliberating the forfeiture phase. Traficant told the court: "Whatever you decide, I'll live by it."

The jury ordered the congressman to pay $96,000 for receiving money from a corrupt enterprise. Prosecutors had wanted him to pay $139,000.

In a brief appearance on the courthouse steps, Traficant was asked if he planned to appeal.

"I don't think there's any hope on appeal for me," he said.

Asked if he regretted representing himself even if though he has no legal training, Traficant replied: "I could have spent half a million dollars and still had the same decision."

He remained free on $50,000 bond. Sentencing was set for June 27.

The jury got the case Monday afternoon after nine weeks of trial and three hours of closing arguments during which Traficant used a roll of toilet paper to demonstrate the government's case didn't hold water.

U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells repeatedly chastised Traficant during the trial and closing arguments. While the jury was still out Thursday, Traficant railed at the judge, accusing her of mishandling the trial and demanding that she order the jury to return a verdict immediately.

The jury Thursday asked the court to clarify the racketeering charge, which alleged a pattern of bribery and mail fraud. Before instructing the jury, the judge asked both sides to comment -- Traficant by speakerphone.

"I don't give a damn what you do," he snapped.

Once the verdicts were returned, Traficant declined to have the jury polled.

During the trial, the prosecution called 55 witnesses while Traficant called 25, most of them character witnesses who described his success as a congressman.

Throughout the trial, Traficant accused federal prosecutors and the FBI of being out to get him and threatened to put all of them in prison if he was acquitted.

During closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Morford pointed to a pile of evidence and likened the congressman to "the Energizer Bunny. He just doesn't stop."

Traficant told the jury all the evidence was circumstantial, noting there were no tapes showing him demanding or accepting anything.

"When you start taking down the burden of proof and you start putting people in jail for circumstantial evidence predicated on what someone said without being corroborated, you have taken the Constitution and you started to shred it," Traficant argued.

In 1983, Traficant successfully defended himself against charges of accepting $163,000 from mobsters while he was sheriff of Mahoning County. Traficant convinced that jury he had been conducting an undercover investigation to break up the mob and that's why the FBI had tapes of him talking with mobsters.

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