Traficant Staff Testimony Hinders Congressman

The court case against U.S. Rep. James Traficant, who is defending himself against bribery and racketeering charges, took a turn for the worse for the congressman Tuesday when a former personal secretary testified that she made many cash deposits in the congressman's personal bank account that were not paycheck deposits.

Grace Yavorsky Kavulic said she deposited cash intermittently for two or three years before her resignation in 1998.

She is the second former staffer in as many days to testify about questionable financial transactions conducted by the congressman.

Traficant, 60, is facing several charges of accepting gifts and favors in exchange for his political influence, tax falsification, and racketeering. He is also charged with extorting cash from his staff in exchange for their employment.

If convicted, the nine-time Democrat from northeast Ohio could get 63 years and expulsion from the House.

Kavulic, Traficant's district secretary from 1981 to 1998, said she was surprised the first time she received cash in the interoffice mail from the congressman's other Youngstown office.

"I opened an envelope and said, 'Oh my God, look at this,'" she testified Tuesday at the U.S. District Court.

She said the envelope contained $2,000 in new $100 bills, and a deposit slip for the congressman's personal bank account, filled out by Traficant. She often deposited his congressional paycheck, but said the cash was not part of those checks.

Kavulic, who filled several of the cash deposit slips, said she was so uncomfortable walking to the bank alone with that much money, she asked other staff members to accompany her.

Traficant, who is not a lawyer, has denied taking kickbacks and has repeatedly stated that none of the witnesses against him has testified seeing anyone hand him cash.

He also refuted testimony of Jackie Bobby, Traficant's office manager for 17 years, who said Chuck O'Nesti, another longtime staffer, complained to her about having to make cash kickbacks to the congressman.

O'Nesti died in 2000 after a battle with cancer.

When he left the congressional office in 1998, Bobby applied for his job, saying in a letter that, "I will fulfill any obligations Chuck had. (Let's talk about this one!)"

Bobby, who resigned after 16 years because she was denied a promotion, told Traficant in court that the parenthetical phrase meant, "I wasn't going to give you money back like Chuck O'Nesti did."

Traficant argued that Bobby's testimony indicates she knew about the alleged kickbacks to the congressman but did not report them. She agreed and said that was out of her loyalty to Traficant and because she knew he was concerned about an Internal Revenue Service investigation.

This is the second time Traficant is up against federal charges. In 1983 he defended himself and was acquitted of having taken $163,000 in bribes from Youngstown mobsters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.