Saturday, April 06, 2002

Traficant rests case without testifying

By Paul Singer
The Associated Press

        CLEVELAND — U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. on Friday rested his case without taking the stand to defend himself against corruption charges.

        U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells refused to dismiss the charges based on his claim that she violated his constitutional rights several time during the nine-week trial. She scheduled closing arguments for Monday.

        “You have failed to allow me to defend myself,” said Mr. Traficant, a nine-term Democrat who is representing himself even though he is not a lawyer.

        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.

        He faces up to 63 years in prison if convicted of all 10 counts. However, he probably would receive a much shorter sentence because of federal sentencing guidelines.

        Mr. Traficant complained that Judge Wells asked him, in front of the jury, whether he would testify. “You have poisoned the jury pool,” he said.

        He had said that he would testify only if Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Morford took the stand to testify about allegations Mr. Traficant wants to make about misconduct by prosecutors.

        “For me to expose myself to questions which may in fact not be necessarily relevant to the issues at hand but may make a juror question some part of my character or some part of my behavior would be absolutely foolish,” Mr. Traficant told reporters after the trial recessed for the day.

        Mr. Traficant's defense lasted two weeks, following about six weeks of prosecution witnesses.

        The congressman — known for his bell-bottom pants, denim suits and arm-waving House speeches against the IRS and FBI — struggled throughout his defense with rules of evidence.

        He got a special order from the judge to allow him to bring in a 600-pound welding machine to show the jury. Prosecutors say he got the machine as a bribe, but Mr. Traficant wanted the jury to see he never used it.

        But the truck hauling the machine broke down and never arrived.

        Prosecutors called 55 witnesses. Mr. Traficant called 30, but the judge limited the testimony of many, preventing them from presenting secondhand testimony or discussing allegations of government wrongdoing.

        He frequently flew into a rage when the judge limited the testimony of his witnesses. Friday he said, “I believe you have conducted a one-sided trial. You were an extension of the prosecution.”


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