Saturday, March 23, 2002

Traficant hearing canceled


Witnesses didn't appear in court

By Paul Singer
The Associated Press

        CLEVELAND — A visibly angry judge canceled a hearing Friday in the corruption trial of U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant because the congressman, who is serving as his own lawyer, failed to call witnesses who were the subject of the hearing.

        U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells gave the jury a day off so she could preview the testimony of key witnesses.

        “You have failed to bring anyone here,” she said to Mr. Traficant. “What did you think we had allowed the jury to stay home for?”

        Mr. Traficant faces 10 charges, including filing false tax returns, accepting gifts and free labor from businessmen for his political help and taking cash kickbacks and free labor from staff members.

        Friday's hearing was scheduled to address prosecution concerns about witnesses Mr. Traficant called Thursday.

        Rules of evidence require that witnesses can testify only to things about which they have personal knowledge, not things they heard other people say. On Thursday, Mr. Traficant tried to question a witness about what his deceased district staff director had said, but the judge barred the testimony.

        Mr. Traficant has been accused of forcing Charles O'Nesti, who died in 2000, to pay the congressman kickbacks from his congressional paychecks.

        A second Traficant witness apparently was prepared to testify that federal agents had bullied other witnesses into testifying against Mr. Traficant.

        Judge Wells said she had to hear the witnesses' answers without a jury present to decide whether their statements were admissible.

        But neither witness showed up Friday. Mr. Traficant said he misunderstood the judge's order and thought he had made it clear that neither witness would be able to come to Cleveland Friday.

        Outside the courthouse Friday, Mr. Traficant said he is not trying to stall the trial.

        “This was an honest mistake,” Mr. Traficant said. “I didn't think it was an issue.”

        He told prosecutors as they left the courtroom, “If you want my evidence before it comes before the court, you're not going to get it.”

        Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Morford told the judge, “This is not the first time this has happened.”

        He recommended that the judge reject Mr. Traficant's witnesses, but the judge did not reply.

        Mr. Traficant also filed a formal motion Friday asking the judge to allow him to enter into evidence several tape recordings he made of his conversations with other parties in the case.

        Mr. Traficant provided transcripts of three of the recordings, in which he encourages witnesses to say that the federal government threatened people if they did not testify against him.

        In one of the transcripts, Mr. Traficant denied that he was taping the conversation.

       



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