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Friday, April 18, 2014
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Published: 8/3/2002

The temerity of Traficant

PERHAPS the most that can be said of the man is he's consistent. James Traficant, Jr., was a classless buffoon to the end. But at least now his outrageous grandstanding will be restricted to an inmate audience.

The Youngstown Democrat, who was dishonorably dumped from Congress before being sentenced to eight years in federal prison for bribery, racketeering, and tax evasion, is behind bars where he belongs.

Not only was he a crook from way back, he was an embarrassment to Ohio and to many of his 17th District constituents. Yes, he has always had a core of followers at home, which only proves there's no accounting for taste.

He was a joke in Congress, dismissed by Democratic colleagues weary of his “beam me up” blather and tolerated by Republicans for his erratic support. Meanwhile, he used and abused his position as a public servant for personal gain and was finally caught.

The tedious Traficant defense of any and all corruption charges levied against him was to paint himself as Victim No. 1 of real or imagined government vendettas. His David versus Goliath strategy allowed him to slip through prosecutors' hands in the past, but his luck ran out.

In his latest confrontation with the government, he faced a tough judge - no pushover for his populist poppycock - and prosecutors with more evidence than Traficant could swat away with his customary salvos.

For more than two months, U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells put up with the frequent outbursts of the 61-year-old defendant, then let him have it with both barrels in the sentencing phase of the trial.

She gave him a longer sentence than prosecutors requested and socked him with a $150,000 fine on top of the $96,000 the jury ordered him to forfeit. Moreover, she denied Traficant's wish to be released on bond pending an appeal and sent him away in handcuffs to begin his prison term.

Perhaps fearing his impending irrelevancy, the defiant demagogue vowed a jailhouse campaign to win re-election to his 10th term in office. It's a ridiculous gesture of course, but one that could give the convicted felon the media attention he craves before fading into inmate obscurity.

James Traficant, who loosely served the Youngstown-Warren area in Washington for 18 years, was his own worst enemy. But to admit it would be quite out of character.



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