From Roll Call 2-3-2000

 Rep. Traficant Expects To Be Indicted Soon
 Flamboyant Member Living Up to Reputation

 By Damon Chappie

 Normally, a Congressional office on the receiving end of a set of subpoenas
 from mob-busting federal prosecutors seeking 15 years of financial and
 telephone records could reasonably be expected to try to keep the matter
 under wraps, particularly if a tough election is just around the corner.

 But normal is not the word many would use to describe Rep. James Traficant
 (D-Ohio), a flamboyant, eight-term maverick whose antics and tirades on the
 House floor frequently win national media attention.

 So when Roll Call made inquiries to his office Friday afternoon about three
 subpoenas for records sent to the House in December 1999, an aide to
 Traficant confirmed - without hesitation - that the subpoenas were likely
 linked to an ongoing federal prosecution of organized crime that has already
 netted several top mobsters and numerous public officials.

 A few hours later, Traficant's office issued a blistering press release
 announcing the subpoenas and declaring his innocence even as he attacked and
 denounced the Justice Department, the Internal Revenue Service and Attorney
 General Janet Reno.

 It was vintage Traficant, railing against the forces of big, powerful
 government and suggesting it was payback for his criticisms of the IRS and
 the Justice Department.

 With Traficant facing his first serious primary challenge in years next
 month, newspapers in his district trumpeted the news on the front pages. But
 Traficant upped the ante further at a Sunday candidate's breakfast, saying
 he expects to be indicted in the near future.

 That wasn't a misquote, according to Paul Marcone, Traficant's chief of
 staff and spokesman.

 "He did say that, yeah," Marcone told Roll Call on Monday. "Whether he is
 going to be indicted, only the U.S. attorney can answer that. But from his
 standpoint, they have gone this far, they kind of have to indict him to
 justify all the subpoenas they have issued."

 Marcone refused to elaborate on whether there are additional subpoenas
 beyond the three issued to House administrative officials that have produced
 thousands of pages of payroll, telephone and billing records from
 Traficant's office.

 At the same time, Traficant is facing the most serious contest of his
 political life, with two Democratic primary opponents who are blasting him
 as the symbol of the corruption they say has long dominated Youngstown. And
 a well-financed citizens' group, started by a number of business people and
 labor officials fed up with the image of their region, has made the removal
 of Traficant from Congress its number one priority.

 Residents of Youngstown, which was dubbed "Crimetown, USA," by the Saturday
 Evening Post in 1963, are now greeted daily with tawdry tales of wiseguys,
 mob hits and an immense web of bribery and conspiracy that has touched
 nearly every level of government in the Mahoning Valley.

 "Everybody is going to jail around here," said Eva Burris, regional director
 of the Youngstown office of the American Federation of State, County and
 Municipal Employees. "It's really hard when you bargain in the public sector
 and you don't know who the boss is going to be the next day."

 The FBI and the Justice Department's organized crime task force has crushed
 the mob in Youngstown, long the battleground between warring mafia families
 in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. The conviction and voluminous testimony of top
 Youngstown boss Lenine "Lenny" Strollo last year has produced a wave of
 convictions and plea bargains, including that of Charles O'Nesti,
 Traficant's top aide in the district for 13 years.

 Tomorrow, another Traficant associate, George Alexander, a disbarred
 attorney who counseled Traficant during his bribery trial and tax court
 fight in the 1980s, is scheduled to be sentenced for his role in the
 attempted murder of a local district attorney.

 Rick Porrello, a former Cleveland cop who has authored two books on the
 Cleveland and Pittsburgh mafia families, noted that "one of the most
 powerful weapons that the government has used is mob informants and
 corroborating witnesses. And now because of all of the convictions in
 Youngstown, with plea deals that require them to tell everything that they
 know, you have got all of these people who are connected to Traficant."

 Traficant has faced allegations of ties to the mob before. His trial on
 bribery charges stemmed from his 1980 race for sheriff, when prosecutors
 alleged that candidate Traficant had taken $163,000 in bribes from Charlie
 "the Crab" Carabbia, a top Cleveland mobster.

 But just weeks after Traficant's successful election as sheriff, Carabbia
 was called to a meeting with other mobsters at a local doughnut shop. The
 next day, his car was found with the keys in the ignition in Cleveland and
 Carabbia has never been seen again, according to James de Szigethy, a
 journalist who has written extensively about the case.

 After Carabbia's disappearance, his wife stunned FBI agents by turning over
 hours of secretly recorded tapes of telephone conversations made by Carabbia
 that included conversations with Traficant expressing his loyalty to the

 On Aug. 9, 1982, the FBI indicted and arrested Traficant on bribery and tax
 evasion charges and played the Carabbia tapes for Traficant. The sheriff
 offered a full confession and turned for help to a law firm that had also
 been mentioned in the tapes.

 But the lawyers dropped Traficant and he ended up rejecting the government's
 offer to serve as a corroborating witness, deciding instead to act as his
 own attorney.

 Traficant explained the Carabbia tapes by arguing that he was setting up an
 elaborate sting operation, and that he took the money so he would know who
 to arrest once he became sheriff. The jury acquitted Traficant of all
 charges, propelling him into history as the only defendant to ever beat the
 Justice Department in a mob case without an attorney.

 Traficant rode into Congress in 1984 as the only Democrat to unseat an
 incumbent Republican in a presidential election year that saw Ronald Reagan
 trounce Walter Mondale.

 But as Traficant built an eccentric reputation with one-minute speeches
 usually punctuated with his trademark "Beam me up," federal prosecutors
 hunkered down in Ohio and with a network of wiretaps and surveillance agents
 began a frontal attack on the Youngstown mob.

 It was launched with a 1995 raid of a Super Bowl party at the home of Dante
 Strollo, the brother of Lenny Strollo, who, with Carabbia's disappearance,
 had secured his hold on Youngstown with the blessing of the Genovese crime
 family, according to de Szigethy.

 Strollo's reign was marked by a wave of bloody violence that included
 attempted hits on public officials, including a newly elected district
 attorney named Paul Gains. Strollo eventually testified that a hit was
 ordered on Gains because he had won a 1996 election against a candidate who
 was already in the mob's pocket.

 The evidence and documents that evolved from the Super Bowl raid eventually
 led prosecutors to strike a deal with Lenny Strollo, who was convicted in
 February 1999. And Strollo fingered numerous public officials who
 participated in the mob's operation, including Traficant's district
 director, Charles O'Nesti.

 O'Nesti, who was paid $70,000 a year to handle all of Traficant's district
 affairs, pleaded guilty last March to racketeering and perjury charges after
 wiretaps revealed he delivered bribes and fixed public works contracts for

 Traficant has said little about O'Nesti's conviction and last week called
 him a "good friend" at an Ohio candidates' meeting.

 But Strollo's testimony implicated other public officials as well, including
 judges, prosecutors and the man who took Traficant's place as sheriff. In
 October, George Alexander, the disbarred lawyer who advised Traficant during
 his legal troubles, was convicted of racketeering and implicated in the
 attempted murder of Gains. Alexander faces up to 71 months in prison and
 prosecutors have said his sentence will depend on his level of cooperation.

 In 1987, Traficant faced allegations that he placed two of Alexander's
 daughters on his Congressional payroll after the daughters admitted they did
 no actual work and that the arrangement was payment for help Alexander had
 provided to Traficant, according to news accounts at the time.

 Marcone, Traficant's spokesman, denied the allegations and said the
 daughters recanted their statements and that nothing came of the story.
 Marcone also said Traficant has not spoken to Alexander in a decade.

 But speculation is rampant that Alexander is providing testimony and
 evidence against Traficant, according to Randy Walter, a real estate
 developer who last year founded the nonprofit group Citizens for Honest and
 Responsible Government. The group has spent about $50,000 so far on polling
 and focus groups aimed at defeating Traficant and urging Youngstown
 residents to clean up the corruption in their government.

 "We are encouraged the FBI and the prosecutors are continuing to do their
 job, which is to clean up this community," Walter said in an interview.

 But Traficant may be benefiting from a field of primary challengers who seem
 destined to split the anti-Traficant vote, according to Bill Binning, a
 political science professor at Youngstown State University.

 State Sen. Robert Hagan and Mahoning County Auditor George Tablack are both
 vying for the reform-minded vote. Hagan appears to be the stronger
 candidate, according to Walter and other observers. Tablack's father ran
 against Traficant in 1980 for sheriff and both men have refused pleas from
 labor and a number of citizens' groups to bow out in order to provide a
 unified front against Traficant.

 The news of subpoenas for Traficant "spices up the race," said Binning. "It
 reminds everybody of all of the recent stories of what has been going on
 here. But right now, he still wins the race, the primary, if he doesn't get

 The divided opposition combined with Traficant's core support may very well
 carry him past the March 7 primary. "But the question is," added Binning,
 "is it the start of a long, downhill slide that ends up with an indictment
 before the general election?"

 That is a question Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) and other party
 leaders will face as they seek to take over the House in November. Party
 strategists appear to have discerned early that Hagan could stand a greater
 chance of winning the general than a wounded Traficant.

 In the days following Hagan's decision to enter the race in September 1999,
 the leaders, mindful that the outcome in any one of a number of wildcard
 districts could make or break the party's chances for the majority, met at
 the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to discuss the matter,
 according to sources who attended the meeting.

 The leaders resolved they had to stick with Traficant, fearing the precedent
 that would be set if they backed off an incumbent, however troubled. Current
 policy at the DCCC says the committee must always back the incumbent.
 Sources in the meeting described it as a "review" of that policy, even if it
 was clear that Traficant's situation had caused leaders to waver.

 Hagan said he has had no contact with Gephardt or other national party
 leaders but he worried that the seat could be lost to Republicans if
 Traficant wins the primary and faces indictment down the road.

 Marcone said Gephardt hasn't inquired about Traficant's situation since news
 of the subpoenas broke. And he added that "given the Congressman's voting
 record, Gephardt might be happy if he were gone. He's never been a team
 player with the party."

 Traficant's support of Republican positions has won friends across the aisle
 and some Republicans have already leapt to his defense.

 Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), whose district borders Traficant's, told
 Roll Call that if the subpoenas are politically motivated to damage
 Traficant just before the primary, "then I think it's not only egregious,
 it's outrageous and people should suffer some penalty, including the loss of
 their jobs. I think the timing right before the primary stinks."