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Traficant guilty of bribery, racketeering

Traficant spoke to reporters outside the courthouse.
Traficant spoke to reporters outside the courthouse.  


CLEVELAND, Ohio (CNN) -- A jury found flamboyant U.S. Rep. James Traficant guilty of bribery and all other charges against him Thursday after a two-month federal racketeering and corruption trial.

The jury of 10 women and two men convicted the congressman on all counts against him, covering charges of taking bribes, filing false tax returns, racketeering, and forcing his aides to perform chores at his farm in Ohio and on his houseboat in Washington.

The verdict followed four days of deliberations. The nine-term maverick Democrat represented himself in court throughout the trial, even though he is not an attorney.

Traficant kept his head down as the jury's decision was read. He then said flatly, "I accept your verdict."

He will remain free on bond until his sentencing on June 27. He faces a total of up to 63 years in prison on all charges if sentenced consecutively, though U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells is not expected to order consecutive sentences.

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U.S. Rep. James Traficant, (D) Ohio, was found guilty by a federal jury of bribery and racketeering. CNN's Kate Snow reports (April 12)

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He also faces possible expulsion from the House of Representatives. After the verdict, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct announced it would meet to consider initiating disciplinary proceedings against Traficant, though it did not say when.

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Missouri, issued a statement saying a member of Congress who breaks the law and commits bribery "strikes at the heart of representative government." He advised Traficant to step down from office.

"In light of the gravity of the charges outlined in the guilty verdict against Mr. Traficant, I think the prudent course of action would be an immediate resignation," Gephardt said.

Colleague predicts fight for seat

On leaving the courthouse Thursday, Traficant profanely rejected Gephardt's call for his resignation. One of his colleagues said he expected him to appeal Thursday's verdict and predicted he would not give up his seat readily.

"I've known him for eight years," said Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio. "He's a fighter. He fought this trial. He didn't get a lawyer when a lot of us told him he had to get a lawyer, and I imagine he'll fight to retain his seat."

Traficant has bucked the Democratic leadership in recent years and supported Rep. Dennis Hastert, a Republican, as speaker of the House: Democratic leaders stripped him of his committee assignments as a result.

He represents the 17th Congressional District, which centers around his hometown of Youngstown and includes parts of three counties in northeast Ohio's Mahoning Valley.

Even before the trial, his political future was clouded by the Ohio legislature's reapportionment of his district. State lawmakers made major changes to the boundaries of the 17th District -- or, as Traficant put it, "They tore the district apart."

Traficant had said he would run for re-election as an independent.

'Beam me up'

The 60-year-old congressman made a name for himself with his colorful one-minute speeches on the floor of the House -- usually punctuated by a cry of "Beam me up." His Web site features Traficant swinging a two-by-four emblazoned with the phrase, "Bangin' away in D.C."

In 1983, while a county sheriff, Traficant was brought up on federal bribery charges. During that trial, he also represented himself. That time, however, he was acquitted.

In this case, Traficant has argued that federal prosecutors targeted him because he defeated them in court back then. The trial was marked by periodic outbursts by Traficant, who railed against prosecutors and Wells.

Prosecutors accused him of accepting gifts and favors from several businessmen in his district, including a convicted felon, in return for interceding on their behalf with federal and state agencies.

He also was accused of using employees from his office to perform work on his farm and boat and requiring them to return a portion of their salaries to him each month. The government alleged that staffers baled hay, maintained horse stalls and performed other chores at Traficant's farm.

Other charges accused him of underreporting income on his tax returns and asking employees to destroy evidence and provide false testimony after he became aware he was being investigated. He vowed to beat the charges as the trial got under way.

"I'm going to look them right in the eye and go at them," he told CNN in February. "I'm just the son of a truck driver, and I'm going to try and kick their ass."



 
 
 
 


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