CLEVELAND, Ohio – What does U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. claim to have in common with Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks and Rodney King?
The Ohio Democrat claims he is a victim of civil rights violations. Traficant has filed a $250 million lawsuit against the federal government alleging that Uncle Sam violated his civil rights in a long-standing "vendetta" against him.
He has also asked that his trial on criminal charges of bribery, scheduled for next week, be put on hold.
In his complaint filed late Wednesday in U.S. District Court in his hometown of Youngstown, Traficant alleged that federal agents "engaged in a long-term vendetta to selectively prosecute" him. The reason, the nine-term congressman said, was revenge for his getting off on federal corruption charges in 1983.
Traficant argued that the alleged vendetta had "put a stranglehold" on his finances and had violated his civil rights. He asked for a court order to halt the payback and stop the government from proceeding with his trial. Traficant asked for a jury trial on his allegations.
The FBI declined to comment, but the Justice Department has denied a vendetta against Traficant in the past.
If his court appearance isn't postponed, Traficant, who is not an attorney but will defend himself, will go to trial Monday on 10 charges, including bribery and racketeering. He is accused of accepting gifts and favors from businessmen in exchange for lobbying federal agencies on behalf of their companies. If convicted of all charges, he could face more than 60 years in prison and $2 million in fines.
Though Traficant asked U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells on Wednesday to dismiss the indictment because of the alleged vendetta, Wells' staff said Thursday there had been no change in the schedule.
Wells ruled Tuesday that Traficant may not claim in the criminal trial that he is a victim of a vendetta or misconduct by federal prosecutors. He had planned to make that a centerpiece of his defense.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.