CLEVELAND, Ohio – A contractor testified on Monday that U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. wrote him a $1,100 check in December 1999 to cover up thousands of dollars worth of free work the contractor was doing for the congressman.
But David Sugar Sr., owner of Honey Creek Contracting Co., said during cross-examination by Traficant that he and the congressman never explicitly discussed a deal of doing favors for each other. Traficant said Sugar merely assumed he was doing the work for free.
Although he is not a lawyer, Traficant, 60, is defending himself on charges that he helped businessmen in exchange for gifts and free labor and took cash kickbacks and free labor from staff members.
The charges against Traficant, a nine-term Democrat, carry a maximum penalty of 63 years in prison. However, if convicted, he likely would face a lesser sentence due to federal sentencing guidelines.
Sugar testified for the prosecution that Traficant gave him the check so he would have a record of having been paid. Sugar said Traficant told him the FBI was investigating him at the time.
Prosecutors allege Sugar's office made fake invoices to cover up free work Sugar's company did for Traficant.
Sugar's former office manger, Sue Beegle, testified on Friday and again Monday that she produced false bills and marked them as if they had been mailed when they, in fact, had not been.
Beegle testified on Friday that she created the bills in the 45 minutes before an FBI agent showed up with a subpoena.
Under cross-examination, Sugar said Traficant never told him to make up fake invoices for the work.
Sugar testified that throughout 1999, he did up to $12,000 worth of work for Traficant in exchange for the congressman's help.
Traficant has acknowledged that he intervened with an Ohio judge to have Sugar's son serve a felony drunken driving sentence in Youngstown instead of near Columbus where the offense occurred.
Sugar said immediately after he discussed his son's situation with Traficant, the congressman took him to the farm to show him work that needed to be done.
"My understanding was that I was doing it for free," Sugar said. "He had helped me with my son. ... I felt obligated to do it."
Honey Creek workers cut roads at Traficant's farm, laid drainage pipe and delivered gravel from a nearby quarry.
In December 1999, Traficant invited Sugar to breakfast at a Youngstown-area restaurant. Sugar said Traficant handed him a check for $1,142, saying it was all he had in his bank account.
"He said the FBI was watching him and had to give me something," Sugar said.
With that check, "I'd have a receipt to show that I was paid."
Sugar said that several months later, he produced a false invoice indicating that he had done about $2,000 worth of work for Traficant.
Sugar also testified that in May 2000, Traficant persuaded him to take a piano from the congressman's home as partial payment for the work. Sugar said he had no interest in the piano, but after he had taken it, two appraisers told him it was worth more than $5,000.
The jury was sent out of the courtroom for a while Monday afternoon after Traficant got into a shouting match with Judge Lesley Wells. Traficant challenged Wells to find him in contempt of court after she chastised him for improperly trying to introduce FBI evidence during his cross-examination of Sugar.
Wells told Traficant she believes he is acting as if he does not know the rules for introducing evidence but actually knows them well. When Wells told him to stop yelling, Traficant told the judge "you have the right to put me in jail," but the judge ignored his remark.