Traficant Worker Says Top Staff Paid Cash Back to Congressman

U.S. Rep. James Traficant's longtime district office manager said Friday that two of his senior aides told her they were giving money back to the congressman out of their paychecks.

Jacqueline Bobby also said envelopes stuffed with large amounts of cash arrived several times over the years at Traficant's 17th District office in Youngstown.

While she said she did not know the amounts, they were large enough that Traficant's secretary, Grace Yavorski Kavulic, was uncomfortable walking alone to deposit the money at the congressman's bank. Bobby said she often went with Kavulic.

Bobby testified for federal prosecutors who allege Traficant, 60, forced his staff to make cash kickbacks or do favors for him. He also is accused of accepting gifts and favors in exchange for using his political influence, tax falsification and racketeering.

Traficant, a nine-term Democrat from northeast Ohio, could be sentenced to 63 years in prison and could face expulsion from the House if convicted.

He is defending himself, although he is not a lawyer. Traficant also represented himself in 1983 when a federal court jury acquitted him of having taken $163,000 in bribes from Youngstown mobsters.

Bobby said she was Traficant's office manager from 1981 to 1984 when he was Mahoning County sheriff and from 1985 through 1998 in his congressional office. She quit after failing to get a promotion when one of the senior aides, Charles O'Nesti, resigned.

Another Traficant staff member, Allen Sinclair, testified Wednesday that he gave the congressman $2,500 in cash out of each monthly paycheck he received from December 1998 through January 2000, for a total of $32,500. Sinclair, an attorney, worked part time on legal matters.

After the trial ended for the day Friday, Traficant said outside the courthouse that he didn't receive any kickbacks.

He also said the proceedings have been tiring.

But he added, "You will not determine the character of a man on a placid tranquil golden pond when he is bass fishing at 7 o'clock in the evening. You will evaluate the character of a man when the waves are crashing at 100 feet and your little ship is crashing from side to side."

Bobby testified that O'Nesti and Henry DiBlasio, the top two aides in the district office, told her they were giving Traficant money. She said she didn't know the amount and had never seen anyone hand the congressman money.

She said O'Nesti "complained because he had to give so much money to the congressman monthly." Bobby said O'Nesti "worked hard for his money and he thought he deserved all of it."

Bobby said DiBlasio — who kept his private law practice during the 13 years he was on Traficant's payroll — did very little work for the congressman.

"I don't know what his duties were," Bobby said, though she said he was the highest paid and most senior person in the district office. Of the work done in the congressional office, "everybody else was doing 99 percent, and he was doing 1 percent," Bobby said.

Jurors heard Bobby's testimony about the cash, but U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells excused them before Bobby discussed what she had heard from O'Nesti and DiBlasio.

Traficant objected to the testimony as hearsay. But the judge said the law allows hearsay to be used as evidence if the person who is the subject of the testimony is unavailable to testify. O'Nesti, who had cancer, is dead, and DiBlasio's lawyer told Wells that DiBlasio will invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.

Wells previewed Bobby's testimony to determine whether it meets the hearsay exceptions and said she would rule before the trial resumes Tuesday.

Traficant, who is known for his blunt talk and arm-waving theatrics on the House floor, sat quietly during most of Bobby's testimony and took notes on a legal pad.

On Thursday, the judge sternly rebuked Traficant for failing to follow proper court procedures, but Friday she complimented him on his behavior. He rose from his seat quietly to raise objections and was able to keep his voice down during discussions with the judge and prosecutors so the jury would not hear his arguments.

"You're getting pretty good at this," Wells said.

The judge also gave Traficant some legal advice, explaining some of the rules regarding hearsay evidence and suggesting to the congressman ways to assert that claim.