CLEVELAND, Ohio – U.S. Rep. James Traficant Jr. tried several times during his bribery trial Monday to suggest the federal government targeted him for prosecution, but he was stopped by the judge.
While cross-examining Paul Marcone, his former chief of staff, Traficant tried to introduce testimony that the government has a vendetta against him because he was acquitted in 1983 of taking bribes from Youngstown mobsters.
Marcone said that in 1999 Traficant told him he expected to be indicted because he "had been targeted by the federal government."
Prosecutor Craig Morford pointed out that U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells had ruled that Traficant can't base his defense on allegations of a government vendetta.
"You instructed us not to do this in front of the jury," Morford told Wells. The judge had spent several minutes before the jury entered the court Monday, reminding Traficant that he can't question witnesses about an alleged vendetta unless he can offer some evidence about it.
Traficant repeatedly complained Monday about the judge's rulings. "I object now for the record that you are restricting my defense," he told Wells.
He said the government didn't want him to discuss his legislative record because "they're paranoid about my record." The congressman said that if jurors knew about all of the legislation he helped pass to limit the power of the IRS, they may agree with him that the government is out to get him.
Traficant, 60, a nine-term Democrat from Youngstown in northeast Ohio, is not a lawyer but is defending himself on 10 charges. He could be sentenced to 63 years in prison and face expulsion from the House if convicted.
Traficant is charged with taking kickbacks in money and free labor from staff members and accepting gifts and favors in exchange for lobbying in Washington.
On Friday, Marcone testified that Traficant coached him before a grand jury appearance to say that two employees who allegedly were paying kickbacks from their salaries were hard workers.
A series of former Traficant staff employees also testified for the prosecution about work staffers did on the congressman's Potomac River boat and farm near Youngstown.
The judge plans to recess the trial for the week on Tuesday so prosecutors and Traficant can fly to Florida to take testimony from a prosecution witness who has cancer and cannot travel to Cleveland.