Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. was convicted Thursday of taking bribes and kickbacks from businessmen and his own staff after a raucous and often-farcical trial in which the fiery congressman insisted on serving as his own attorney.
The conviction came on the fourth day of deliberations after a two-month trial punctuated by the blustery theatrics _ arm-waving and screaming _ that the nine-term congressman often exhibited on the floor of the House.
Within minutes of his conviction, House officials began ethics proceedings against him. Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., who has pointedly stopped referring to Traficant as a Democrat when speaking with reporters, called for Traficant to resign without delay.
"A member of Congress who breaks the law betrays the public trust and brings discredit to the House of Representatives," Gephardt said. "The House has a process to deal with convicted felons and I'm sure the House ethics committee will pursue that process expeditiously. However, in light of the gravity of the charges outlined in the guilty verdict against Mr. Traficant, I think the prudent course of action would be an immediate resignation."
"I'm not going to resign, and I will appeal," Traficant, 60, a Democrat from Youngstown, said as he left the U.S. District Court after a jury found him guilty on all 10 felony counts.
Throughout the trial, jurors heard from former employees, constituents and business owners that Traficant repeatedly traded his influence for personal gain. The charges on which they convicted him included:
+ Receiving free labor and materials from construction businesses in exchange for intervening on behalf of federal regulators and other favors.
+ Requiring a staff member to turn over $2,500 from his monthly paycheck.
+ Seeking to persuade the staff member to destroy evidence and provide false testimony.
+ Using staff members to do work on his boat and on his farm.
+ Filing false tax returns.
+ Related bribery and mail fraud offenses.
At sentencing, set for June 27, Traficant could face up to 63 years in prison, as well as hundreds of thousands dollars in fines. But under federal guidelines he probably would receive a much shorter term.
In convicting Traficant, the jury rejected his oft-stated argument that the case against him was a vendetta by government prosecutors who were upset that he beat federal racketeering charges in 1983.
At that time, Traficant convinced a jury that he took $163,000 in mob money as part of an undercover operation he had been running as Mahoning County sheriff. Riding a wave of popularity, he was elected to Congress the following year.
He acted as his own attorney in both trials. In the current case, Traficant often appeared ill at ease with courtroom procedures and was repeatedly chastised for running afoul of decorum and rules.
Throughout the trial, he never fully lost the support of his constituents, who recalled him fondly for his refusal, as sheriff, to evict steel workers from their homes who couldn't pay their bills after losing their jobs.