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James Traficant Jr., flamboyant former congressman from Ohio, dies at 73

By Ralph Ellis and Sara Fischer, CNN
updated 11:42 AM EDT, Sun September 28, 2014
  • Former Ohio Rep. James Traficant dies at 73
  • He had been in critical condition following a farm accident
  • Traficant was known for his hair and ending speeches with "Beam me up!"
  • He was expelled from Congress after being convicted of bribery

(CNN) -- James Traficant Jr., who railed against government agencies while serving as a wild-haired, maverick congressman from Ohio, died Saturday after being critically injured in a tractor accident on his farm. Traficant was 73.

Family attorney Heidi Hanni told CNN that Traficant passed away at 11:30 a.m. He'd been riding a small 1943 tractor on Tuesday at his farm in Greenford, Ohio, when he lost control, causing the tractor to roll over him, local police said.

He died at St. Elizabeth Health Center, the Youngstown Vindicator reported.

Traficant was a Democrat who represented Ohio's 17th Congressional District from 1985 to 2002.

With a penchant for colorful, sometimes crude language, Traficant made a name for himself in Washington long before being convicted on federal corruption charges, a courtroom defeat that led to his expulsion from Congress because of ethics violations tied to it.

Ex-congressman James Traficant dies
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"There are no ethics in politics," he declared at his ethics hearing. "And there should be no ethics committee. It is dog eat dog. Castrate your opponent."

Such comments made him a favorite of reporters in Washington, where he was willing to offer his opinion on just about any topic.

'Beam me up!'

He was equally famous in Washington for his hair.

The Washington Post obit noted: "Reporters outdid themselves in trying to describe Mr. Traficant's pompadour -- and to determine whether it was real. In the words of the Los Angeles Times, it was a 'Planet of the Apes sort of hair helmet,' or as Washingtonian magazine put it, 'a creature from Lake Erie before it was cleaned up.'"

But it turned out Traficant wore a toupee. This was discovered in 2002 when he was booked into a jail in Akron, Ohio, before being sent to federal prison, and authorities searched for "contraband or weapons," according to a CNN story. A jail official said it was a small hairpiece and didn't fully cover Traficant's head.

Traficant made flamboyant and animated House speeches, which often ended with his trademark, "Beam me up!"

A former football player at the University of Pittsburgh, Traficant went on to play the role of hometown hero after graduation, serving as a drug counselor and Mahoning County, Ohio, sheriff.

While sheriff, Traficant was tried on bribery charges in 1983. Acting as his own lawyer, he persuaded a jury to acquit him, saying he was conducting his own sting operation. He was elected to Congress in 1984.

In Washington, he barreled through the House in rumpled sports coats and loud shirts. Traficant fashioned himself as a maverick populist, spending much of his career railing against foreign aid and various government agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service and the CIA.

"Lying, thieving, stealing nincompoops" is how he once described the latter.

Convicted of bribery charges

In April 2002, Traficant was convicted on 10 charges of bribery, racketeering and tax evasion. Although not a lawyer, Traficant again represented himself.

He was expelled from the House later that year by a 420-1 vote, becoming only the second congressman expelled since the Civil War.

He took up painting as a hobby while he served his sentence from 2002 to 2009.

Months after his release from prison, Traficant filed for office as an independent but lost his bid to regain his old seat to sitting Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat.

A few days before his expulsion from Congress, Traficant told CNN, "I'm a son of a truck driver. Forget this Congress business, I'm a regular guy."

People we've lost in 2014

Parts of this story came from a 2002 CNN profile of James Traficant Jr.

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