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House Panel Charges Convicted Colleague

Ethics: Ohio's James A. Traficant Jr. was guilty of corruption. He may be expelled from Congress.

June 28, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The House ethics committee issued a 10-count list of alleged violations Thursday against convicted Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. and set a public hearing for next month.

The charges allege that the Ohio Democrat engaged in a "continuing pattern and practice of official misconduct," including acceptance of kickbacks, encouraging the destruction of evidence, defrauding the United States and filing false income tax returns.

The eight-member panel, which includes two fellow Ohio lawmakers, said it would hold a public hearing on July 15 to determine whether any of the charges "have been proven by clear and convincing evidence."

Traficant has called repeatedly for a public hearing, during which he has said he will present the ethics committee with taped conversations that were barred from his bribery trial by a federal judge.

He claimed the audiotapes prove that witnesses against him were bullied into testifying by the federal government. The judge ruled that since the people Traficant taped were available to testify in person, there was no reason to play the taped conversations.

Traficant's spokesman, Charles Straub, said Thursday, "It's quite clear that the ethics committee has relied quite heavily on the trial transcripts and it's now up to them to decide what the next step is."

Issuing charges against Traficant moved the ethics committee closer to recommending a punishment, which could include expulsion from Congress.

Expulsion is the most severe punishment and has happened to only one congressman in the last 141 years. Such action would require the approval of two-thirds of the 435-member House.

As part of an unusual, informal agreement, Traficant has not appeared on the House floor since his conviction on bribery and racketeering charges in April. In exchange, critics have refrained from seeking his immediate expulsion.

The committee's alleged violations of ethics rules are based on the testimony and evidence at Traficant's trial in Cleveland, and members of an investigative subcommittee noted they decided not to open a time-consuming investigation into other potential violations of House rules.

Traficant, serving his ninth term from the northeast Ohio district around Youngstown, faces up to 63 years in prison at a court sentencing set for July 30.

A judge this week rejected Traficant's request for a new trial.

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