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Published: Thursday, 3/21/2002

Traficant to begin his defense

BY LISA A. ABRAHAM
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

CLEVELAND - Congressman James A. Traficant, Jr., said that before he begins calling defense witnesses today he will ask to be acquitted of all charges in his federal racketeering trial.

Prosecutors in the trial, now in its seventh week, called the last of their more than 50 witnesses yesterday and said they would formally rest their case this afternoon.

Mr. Traficant, a Democrat from the Youngstown suburb of Poland, said he wanted to ask for the acquittal in front of the jury. He maintains that prosecutors have produced no “physical evidence” to prove the allegations contained in his 10-count indictment, which includes charges of conspiracy, tax evasion, and bribery. The congressman is representing himself in the case.

Judge Lesley Brooks Wells told Mr. Traficant she would hear his motion today after the prosecution rests. She also told him that he should be prepared to begin calling defense witnesses this afternoon.

Mr. Traficant has not filed a witness list, a move that has vexed prosecutors. He has, however, issued a handful of subpoenas, including one for Richard Detore, named as a co-defendant in one of the bribery counts.

Mr. Detore is former chief operating officer for the bankrupt USAerospace Group, a Manassas, Va., company that had been trying to market laser technology designed to help airplanes land more safely in the dark.

The indictment alleges that Mr. Detore was part of a scheme to buy favors from Mr. Traficant so that he would exert his influence in Washington as USAG attempted to get FAA approval for the technology.

USAG was owned by J.J. Cafaro, a Youngstown-area multimillionaire whose family's Cafaro Co. is one of the largest shopping-mall developers in the nation.

Cafaro, a key prosecution witness, has pleaded guilty to giving Mr. Traficant illegal gratuities totaling more than $40,000 in exchange for favors from the congressman. His testimony against Mr. Traficant yesterday was part of a plea agreement.

Mr. Detore's attorneys asked Judge Wells to quash his subpoena, a request she denied. Mr. Detore's attorneys maintained that on the witness stand, he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Judge Wells, however, ruled that Mr. Detore had to come to court and actually take the stand before he could take the Fifth.

Today's testimony is not slated to begin until afternoon, to allow time for a hearing requested by prosecutors on law dealing with the testimony of co-conspirators.

In his daily exchange with the media yesterday, Mr. Traficant replied, “Janet Reno, Monica Lewinsky, and Lorena Bobbitt,” when asked whom he intended to call as his first witnesses.



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