CLEVELAND – A federal jury began deliberating U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr.'s fate Monday, nine weeks into a trial in which prosecutors accused him of abusing his public office by receiving bribes and favors for years.
Traficant in closing arguments told jurors that he's innocent and was the victim of government agents who hate him.
"There's not one damn bit of evidence that anybody gave me any money," said Traficant, who is defending himself although he's not a lawyer.
The nine-term Democrat from northeast Ohio is accused of taking kickbacks from staff members, accepting gifts and free labor from businessmen for his political help and filing false tax returns.
Traficant, 60, faces up to 63 years in prison if convicted of all 10 counts. However, he probably would receive a much shorter sentence because of federal sentencing guidelines.
Deliberations began with an alternate juror, after a man on the jury asked to be dismissed because of a family matter. He was replaced with a woman.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Morford said during closing arguments that while Traficant may have been an effective congressman, he is not above the law.
"He can't use his public office as a trough to feed his personal appetite," Morford said.
U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells interrupted Traficant several times during his closing arguments, after he brought up evidence that had been ruled out of order during the trial or referred to his previous legal battles with the government.
"Does the IRS like me? Hates my guts," Traficant said.
"They have too much power," he said, pointing at the prosecution table.
Traficant argued the only evidence against him was the testimony of witnesses who have pleaded guilty to other crimes and could be manipulated by the government.
He referred twice to an FBI document indicating the government had found none of his fingerprints on more than 900 documents that are part of the evidence in the case.
Traficant said the absence of fingerprints proved his innocence.
Morford disputed Traficant's claim that there is no physical evidence. He showed jurors six binders of evidence, including letters and documents, along with a bundle of cash and a scorched envelope from Allen Sinclair, a former Traficant staff member.
Sinclair testified that he kicked back $2,500 from each of his congressional paychecks. When Traficant found out he was being investigated, Sinclair testified the congressman brought piles of cash back to Sinclair, along with envelopes that the cash was brought in. He said Traficant told him to burn the envelopes.
"There is no legitimate way to counter the evidence," Morford said, describing a long list of bribes, gifts and favors that Traficant is accused of taking.
Traficant -- known for his bell-bottom pants, denim suits and arm-waving House speeches against the IRS and FBI -- has struggled throughout the trial with rules of evidence.
His defense lasted two weeks and involved 30 witnesses, following about six weeks of 55 prosecution witnesses.
The judge limited the testimony of many of Traficant's witnesses, preventing them from presenting secondhand testimony or discussing allegations of government wrongdoing.