Ohio congressman vows to fight criminal charges
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Ohio Democrat Rep. James Traficant vowed Friday to fight criminal charges by federal prosecutors that he allegedly accepted illegal gifts and services in return for performing political favors and misused his congressional staff.
"The U.S. attorney better defeat me, because if they don't, they will be working in Yeehaw Junction," Traficant said in response to a 10-count indictment handed down Friday by a grand jury in Cleveland. "I will challenge them in court. I will represent myself."
Traficant is accused by prosecutors 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 is also accused of using employees in his office to perform work on his farm and boat, and requiring them to return a portion of their salaries to him each month.
Staffers baled hay, maintained horse stalls and performed other chores at Traficant's farm in Greenford, Ohio, the indictment alleges.
The congressman is further accused of under-reporting income on his tax returns and of asking employees to destroy evidence and provide false testimony once he became aware he was being investigated.
Traficant is charged with four counts of bribery, two counts of tax evasion and one count each of obstruction of justice, seeking bribes, conspiracy to defraud the government and racketeering -- a total of 10 counts.
The charges result from a lengthy federal investigation into public corruption and organized crime that had already ensnared the former director of Traficant's district office and one of the congressman's former advisers.
Traficant, 59, a former county sheriff now in his ninth term representing Ohio's 17th Congressional District, has said repeatedly he had expected to be indicted. In 1983, when he was sheriff, he successfully defended himself against bribery charges, acting as his own attorney although he is not a lawyer.
Speaking to CNN in March about his potential indictment, he warned prosecutors that "they better fix the damn jury, because there's going to be a rumble."
According to the Justice Department, the congressman will be given a summons and arraigned within two weeks but will not be arrested.
Traficant, whose voting record is moderate, is known for making colorful speeches on the House floor, many of which he ends with the tag line, "Beam me up." His Web site features Traficant swinging a two-by-four emblazoned with the phrase, "Bangin' away in D.C."
He angered members of his own party earlier this year when he crossed over to vote for Republican Dennis Hastert as speaker of the House. He was forced out of the Democratic caucus and lost his committee assignments.
"I would hope that this matter is resolved quickly," said Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, a member of the Democratic leadership in the House.
"He's entitled to have his day in court," Frost said, "and the people that he represents are entitled to have a congressman who doesn't have a cloud over his head."
Traficant's district centers around his hometown of Youngstown and includes parts of three counties in northeast Ohio's Mahoning Valley.
Traficant considering invitation to attend GOP convention (July 26, 2000)
Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio
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