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Feature Articles


February 2002

THE TRIALS OF TRAFICANT:

Part Three


By James Ridgway de Szigethy


Court Documents Reveal Traficant's Suicide Anxiety

     Just days before his current bribery trial began, Congressman James Traficant filed a lengthy Motion in Federal Court seeking the dismissal of all charges, citing what he claimed was evidence of Prosecutorial misconduct on the part of Assistant U. S. Attorney Craig Morford and his "accomplices." Morford, who successfully prosecuted the 1987 tax trial against Traficant, was accused in the Motion of several crimes, including suborning Perjury from those the government targeted as witnesses against Traficant.

     Among Traficantís allegations was the following: "the behavior of AUSA Morford and his associates . . . has evolved into tactics of such powerful threats and intimidation that the potential loss of life by means of suicide or the willful provocation of stress, is possible."

     Two journalists covering the Traficant trial found this statement particularly disturbing. ROLL CALL Magazineís Damon Chappie reported the suicide reference in the context of the testimony in Traficantís first bribery trial of Joseph A. Hudak, who at the time was a veteran narcotics investigator in the Mahoning County Sheriffís Department. Sgt. Hudak testified for the Prosecution that on several occasions his friend Sheriff Traficant begged him to shoot him so that he could gain sympathy from the public, as well as a delay in his Mafia bribery trial. In a CNN CROSSFIRE interview, Tucker Carlson specifically asked Traficant if he was accusing the government of trying to provoke him into committing suicide or die from stress. "No, not necessarily me!" was Traficantís reply.

     Simultaneous to Traficantís references to suicide came his appearances on talk shows in which he pointedly displayed a large bandage to his index finger which he claimed covered a wound that was the result of an encounter with a table saw. Once again, the long-ago testimony of Sgt. Hudak seemed relevant to the current trial. During a visit to Traficantís horse farm, Hudak testified, "(Traficant) said he would put his hand up and I should shoot him through the hand!"

     Was Traficantís current injury to his hand a self-inflicted act designed to gain public sympathy? Was Traficantís references to suicide also a contrived attempt to elicit support on his behalf? Is Congressman Traficant suicidal?

     After Traficantís arrest in 1982 for accepting $163,000 in bribes from members of the Pittsburgh and Cleveland Mafia families, the head of the Democratic Party in Youngstown undertook legal steps to have Traficant declared legally insane. That attempt did not succeed. However, since that time, Traficant has often displayed what many regard as bizarre and irrational behavior, including the making of unsubstantiated claims against various government officials and the championing of elaborate conspiracy theories.

     Traficant is a member of the Roman Catholic faith, the teachings of which condemn suicide. However, Traficant is also a resident of Youngstown, Ohio, referred to by some of its citizens as ĎMurdertown, USA.í Youngstown is a place where the intersection between religion and organized crime has produced some of the most troubling events in recent American history.

     One such case is that of Paul Gains, an honest cop who unexpectedly was elected as Mahoning County Prosecutor in 1996. The ruling elite of ĎMurdertown,í Associates of the Mafia, decided that Gains had to be eliminated and chose to assassinate him on Christmas Eve, the theory being that Gains would likely let his guard down on one of Christendomís holiest times of the year. Gains was shot in his home by a Mafia hitman, but when the hired thug zeroed in on the wounded cop to shoot the final and lethal bullet into Gainsí head, the gun jammed. Gains survived and the perpetrators of this crime are now in prison.

     Not so fortunate was the Reverend Joseph Iati, Pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Youngstown. In 1986 Father Iati was found dead of a gunshot wound to his head. Youngstown authorities officially ruled Iatiís death a suicide. Iati was a beloved and respected member of the community, but in July, 2000 former Youngstown Mayor Patrick Ungaro told the Plain Dealer that Father Iati on numerous occasions tried to bribe him with money from Joey Naples, a Pittsburgh Mafia Family figure. Naples, a Mount Carmel parishioner, was among those who contributed to the $163,000 bribe given to Traficant during his successful 1980 campaign for Mahoning County Sheriff.

     Joey Naples was murdered in 1991. At his funeral, the Reverend John DeMarinis of Mount Carmel Church called his murder "tragic!" "He was always there to help!" Although no one has yet been charged with this crime, information has emerged in recent years which suggests that Naplesí murder was the fallout over an extortion scam run by the Gambino Mafia Family of New York against Youngstown fireworks distributor Bruce Zoldan. At the time of the extortion, Sammy Gravano was the Underboss of the Gambino Family and thus probably had knowledge of these crimes, which he presumably relayed to the Feds once he became a co-operating Witness after agreeing to testify against Gambino Godfather John Gotti. However, Gravano was not called to testify in the one Federal bribery trial in which information about the fireworks scam was made public, the 1999 trial of Mahoning County Sheriff Phil Chance. Zoldanís troubles began a generation earlier when Sheriff James Traficant hired Chance as a Deputy and the two then led an illegal raid on Zoldanís fireworks business just before itís busiest moneymaking season, the Fourth of July. Zoldan later won a lawsuit because of the raid by Traficant and his Deputies.

     Sheriff Chance was convicted upon the testimony of Pittsburgh Mafia Family figure Lenny Strollo and his associate Charles OíNesti, who for 13 years worked for Traficant in his Congressional office in Youngstown. OíNesti and Strollo were both involved in the $163,000 bribe of Traficant in 1980. Strollo also testified in the Chance trial as to his involvement in the 1980 murder of Cleveland Mafia Family figure Charlie "The Crab" Carabbia, who was killed just days after revealing to Sheriff-elect Traficant that he was blackmailing Traficantís friend Ed Flask with "compromising photographs." Flask, now also a convicted felon, is the son of a former Youngstown Mayor who had ties to the Pittsburgh Mafia Family.

     The FBI would later find secretly-recorded tapes made by Carabbia which documented Traficantís acceptance of the $163,000 in bribe money, which was a significant sum of money in Ohio in 1980 and thus reflected the enormous amount of profits generated by the Mafia gambling rackets that Traficant vowed to protect if elected as Sheriff. The tapes were used as evidence against Traficant in his Mafia bribery trial in Cleveland. However, Traficant acted as his own attorney, explaining to the jury that he only accepted the money so that he would know whom to arrest once elected Sheriff. Among those who testified as a character witness on Traficantís behalf was the Reverend Lonnie Simon, a Baptist preacher from Youngstown, who led prayer vigils at the Federal Courthouse in Cleveland during Traficantís trial. After four days deliberation, the jury acquitted Traficant on all charges.

     In the current trial, Traficant is reported to be tired, out-of-focus, and not effective in challenging the government witnesses during cross-examination. Traficant has complained of not sleeping well. At Traficantís age, he must realize that if convicted of the charges he is accused of, he will spend the rest of his life in a Federal prison. The government will also seize Traficantís beloved horse farm, where, a generation ago, his friend Joseph Hudak claimed Sheriff Traficant begged him to shoot him through the hand.

     In a 1990 profile in the Washington Post, Traficant revealed that he sleeps with a loaded shotgun within the reach of his hands.


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