CLEVELAND – A former contractor testified Tuesday that he agreed to forget a $13,000 debt for U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. in exchange for the congressman's promise to help the company.
Testifying in Traficant's federal corruption trial, Anthony Bucci said the agreement also prevented a lawsuit against the congressman for payment of a $10,000 bill for construction work on Traficant's horse farm in early 1987.
"We were basically going to sue a congressman, or for $13,000, we were going to own him," said Bucci, who, with his brother, Robert, owned Asphalt Specialists Inc. in the Youngstown area.
Traficant, 60, a nine-term Democrat from northeast Ohio, is charged with taking kickbacks in money and free labor from staff members and accepting gifts and favors from businessmen in exchange for his help. He could be sentenced to 63 years in prison and face expulsion from the House if convicted. Traficant is defending himself even though he is not a lawyer.
Anthony Bucci said the company had threatened to sue in November 1988 for $12,985.85, the original bill plus interest.
Soon after, he said, he met with Traficant and Chuck O'Nesti, a senior staff member in Traficant's Youngstown office.
Bucci said he told Traficant "if I forgive the debt I will expect to have favors."
Traficant "agreed, and his comment was, 'I could do a lot more for you than any attorney,"' Bucci said.
Bucci was convicted in 1992 of fraud in federally funded construction projects and was sentenced to six months in prison. Traficant successfully lobbied federal prison officials to have Bucci moved from a North Carolina prison to a halfway house in Youngstown, Bucci testified.
Prosecutor Craig Morford displayed letters from Traficant's congressional office to federal highway officials, including former Transportation Secretary Federico Pena, asking that Bucci's company not be barred from bidding on federal contracts despite the conviction.
In a May 1993 letter, Traficant wrote that the company employed 150 people in the Youngstown area. Bucci testified that Traficant knew that the company employed no more than 50 people.
Before testimony on Tuesday, Traficant complained to reporters and later to Judge Lesley Wells that he has been unable to get state documents that he needs to defend himself.
Traficant said he wants to see the employment records of a former Ohio Department of Transportation worker. The employee, Thomas Williams, is expected to testify that Traficant threatened to have him fired if the congressman did not stop posing problems for a paving company in Mahoning County, which is in Traficant's district, according to court records.
Traficant said he wants to investigate whether Williams investigated some contractors more harshly than others.
His trial is scheduled to adjourn Tuesday afternoon so the congressman and prosecutors can interview Williams, who lives in Florida and is too ill to travel to Cleveland to testify.
Transportation spokesman Brian Cunningham said he had not been aware of Traficant's complaint and had no information on it.