CLEVELAND, Ohio – U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. said Tuesday he will ask a court to dismiss corruption charges against him, saying the government has presented no physical evidence that he took bribes.
Traficant said he will make the request before calling any witnesses in his trial in U.S. District Court. Prosecutors are expected to rest their case Tuesday or Wednesday.
Traficant, 60, although not a lawyer, is representing himself on charges he received gifts and free labor from businessmen for his political help and took cash kickbacks and free labor from staff members.
The nine-term Democrat from northeast Ohio faces 10 counts of bribery, racketeering and tax evasion, carrying a maximum possible penalty of up to 63 years in prison. However, if Traficant is convicted of all charges, he would likely would receive a much shorter sentence because of federal sentencing guidelines.
The government has presented 53 witnesses who have testified to an array of things they did for Traficant. A former staff member said he gave the congressman cash from his monthly congressional paychecks; a laborer said he was paid by a businessman to build an addition to Traficant's farmhouse; a contractor testified that he made up fake bills to cover free work he had done for Traficant.
But Traficant has repeatedly emphasized that the government does not have his fingerprints on any cash he supposedly accepted, and has never made an audiotape or videotape of him accepting bribes or conspiring to take bribes.
He told Judge Lesley Wells that he will file a motion to dismiss the case because of the government's "failure to prove through physical evidence their charges."
Traficant reiterated that he is prepared to begin his defense, but he refused to tell Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Morford who his first witness would be.
Traficant again asked the judge for permission to play for the jury an audiotape of a conversation between himself and Richard Detore, which Traficant believes will show his innocence.
Detore is a co-defendant in Traficant's case, accused of giving the congressman bribes in exchange for Traficant's efforts to have the Federal Aviation Administration approve a runway lighting system built by U.S. Aerospace Group, the company Detore worked for.
Traficant has said he has several audiotapes of conversations with other parties in the case and that he wants to make the tapes part of his defense.
Wells told Traficant she would not rule on the tapes until he explains in writing the legal basis for introducing the conversations into evidence.
Morford said Traficant cannot play the tapes in court because they are hearsay. If Detore or Traficant has something to say to the jury, they must take the stand and be available for cross-examination, Morford said.
On Tuesday, J.J. Cafaro, who owned U.S. Aerospace, testified that over a 10-year period he gave Traficant three cars with a total value of close to $100,000, but never asked Traficant to pay him for them.
Cafaro has said he provided the money for the favors that Detore was arranging for Traficant. He testified earlier that he also gave $13,000 in cash in a sham boat sale.
In December 1999, after the FBI subpoenaed records from Traficant's congressional office, the congressman sent a $7,000 check as payment for the cars, and later sent another $3,000 check, Cafaro said. He said he had not requested the money.
Traficant told reporters Monday that Cafaro was lying. He noted that Cafaro has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and said he was trying to stay out of jail.