CLEVELAND – Assuming he is not convicted on 10 counts of tax falsification, racketeering, and accepting gifts and favors in exchange for political influence, nine-term Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. will run for re-election as an independent.
The congressman, defending himself in U.S. District Court, said his trial leaves no time to conduct a Democratic primary campaign in the newly-formed 17th Congressional District, created by the Republican legislature, which eliminated Traficant's northeast Ohio district.
"If I'm convicted, I have no shot as it is," Traficant said. "If I'm not convicted, I have to run in an area that I've never run in before ... At this point I think the dynamics of this case have put me into a position where I don't have much choice."
Traficant, 60, could be sentenced to 63 years in prison and face expulsion from the House if convicted in his corruption trial.
His case was not helped Thursday when a former staff member testified that he was never paid for extra work he did on Traficant's horse farm.
Richard Rovnak said he was hired in 1990 as a part-time staff member and made $750 a month to help constituents at the district office in Youngstown. But Rovnak said he spent most of his time at the congressman's farm, at times working 16-hour days doing plumbing, carpentry and other tasks.
"He tried to get me to stack hay and unload it ... with my back being bad, I just couldn't do it," said Rovnak, who now walks with a cane.
On Wednesday, H. West Richards, chief of staff in Traficant's Washington office from 1990 through 1993, testified that he asked staff members, at Traficant's request, to do repairs on the congressman's boat, which was docked in the Potomac River in 1991.
Christopher Whitehead, a former legislative aide, also testified that he "did a little bit of scraping" of flaking paint and rotted boards on the boat.
On Thursday, Rovnak testified that when he asked Traficant to pay him for working on the farm, Traficant told him he was already getting paid, though his paycheck was sent by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Rovnak said he also worked on Traficant's boat, but never got any money for that either.
In a second day of testimony, Richards agreed with Traficant that the congressman never forced staffers to work on the boat. But he also told prosecutors that staffers may have felt pressure to do the work.
Richards said Wednesday that although employees complained about the boat work, it was considered a team-building experience.
Asked by prosecutors whether staff members volunteered or were ordered to do personal chores for Traficant, Richards said, "There's a fine line there, I guess."
Handyman Joe Altiero also testified Wednesday that in 1995 his employer, Prime Contractors of Youngstown, Ohio, sent him to repair machinery at Traficant's horse farm.
The government alleges that Traficant intervened on behalf of the owners of Prime Contractors, urging federal and state highway officials to accept bids from the company despite labor violations.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.