Thursday, April 04, 2002

Judge to Traficant: Quit 'dillydallying' on defense

By Paul Singer
The Associated Press

        CLEVELAND — A federal judge ordered U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. to call witnesses, take the stand or rest his case today at his corruption trial.

        The judge released the jury for the day before noon Wednesday, when Mr. Traficant, for the second day in a row, ran out of witnesses. He is defending himself in court, even though he's not a lawyer.

        U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells told jurors when they left that they should return today with enough clothing for two or three days. She is expected to order them to be sequestered, possibly as early as tonight.

        With the jury in the room, Judge Wells said she would not allow Mr. Traficant to waste the jury's time and her time “while you dillydally and delay.”

        Judge Wells repeatedly asked Mr. Traficant if he intended to take the stand in his own defense and Mr. Traficant repeatedly refused to answer.

        “Do you rest?” Judge Wells asked.

        Mr. Traficant replied, “Yes, every evening.”

        Judge Wells, her voice shaking with anger, said, “I can only conclude now you have nothing further.”

        But Mr. Traficant shouted, “What right do you have to stop my trial now?”

        After the jury was adjourned, Mr. Traficant accused Judge Wells of “poisoning the jury” by bringing up his testimony and asking if he plans to rest his case.

        “I'll rest when I'm ready to rest,” he bellowed. “I make a motion right now for a mistrial.”

        Mr. Traficant then read a motion he made Tuesday morning — which Judge Wells denied Tuesday night — stating that he would testify in his own defense only if Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Morford takes the stand to testify about allegations Mr. Traficant wants to make about prosecutorial misconduct.

        Mr. Traficant finally promised to call several witnesses today, but Mr. Morford warned the judge he would object to those witnesses as being irrelevant.

        Judge Wells said that if Mr. Traficant does not have enough witnesses to fill the day and doesn't take the stand, both sides should be prepared to start closing arguments today.

        Outside the courthouse, Mr. Traficant told reporters that Judge Wells cannot order him to call witnesses. “I don't give a damn who ordered anything,” Mr. Traficant said. “If I decide to defy a court order, it won't be the first time. And I may do that.”

        Mr. Traficant's only witness on Tuesday was Michael Terlecky, a Mahoning County sheriff's deputy in Youngstown from 1977-88, who testified that he talked to Charles O'Nesti in a service station parking lot shortly before Mr. O'Nesti died of cancer in 2000.

        Mr. Traficant has been charged with taking kickbacks from staff members, including Mr. O'Nesti, who managed Mr. Traficant's district office. Mr. Terlecky said Mr. O'Nesti told him during the chance meeting that he loaned money to Mr. Traficant and the congressman always repaid the loans.

        Under cross-examination, Mr. Terlecky admitted he had pleaded guilty to taking bribes from the mob while he was a sheriff's deputy.

        Mr. Terlecky said he was innocent and only pleaded guilty on the advice of his attorney.

        Mr. Terlecky had previously been prohibited from testifying because the judge ruled that his testimony was hearsay. She ruled this week that Mr. Terlecky could testify for the purpose of disputing the testimony of other witnesses who had said Mr. O'Nesti was giving kickbacks to Mr. Traficant.

        Mr. Traficant, 60, is accused of taking kickbacks from staff members, accepting gifts and free labor from businessmen for his political help and filing false tax returns.



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