Ohio Rep. James Traficant, one of the most flamboyant figures in Congress, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on a variety of charges, including bribery, conspiracy and income tax evasion.
The Democrat, long a target of suspicion by a grand jury looking into mob activity in Youngstown, Ohio, had been expecting the indictment for some time.
Under the 10-count indictment, Traficant faces charges of conspiracy to violate bribery statutes, filing false income tax returns, and others for obstruction of justice, conspiracy to defraud the United States and racketeering.
In Youngstown, Traficant said this morning he had heard government investigators were pressing potential witnesses to tell them what they wanted to hear, regardless of the truth.
"They felt they were not only intimidated, that the U.S. attorneys tried to put words in their mouth," Traficant said.
Several of the bribery charges allege Traficant accepted free work on a farm and boat that he owned in exchange for intervening with federal and state authorities on behalf of contractors. Other counts charge the congressman had paid congressional staff working on his boat and doing chores on the farm during business hours.
The federal probe into organized crime and corruption in Traficant's district has led to nearly 80 convictions. Even the man who ran Traficant's district office is an admitted bag man for the Youngstown mafia in a city that has been overrun by crime since the 1950s.
Ironically, it was Traficant's 1983 acquittal on bribery charges that helped catapult him into Congress. Though he's no lawyer, Traficant represented himself and beat Justice Department charges that he took $163,000 in mob cash. Traficant, at the time a sherriff, convinced a jury that he was merely taking the cash as part of a sting operation he had set up.
But the acquittal made Traficant a folk hero, and he has been re-elected to Congress nine times. He is best known for his unusual haircut and outrageous floor speeches that he signs off with a trademark, "Beam me up, Mr. Speaker!"
In keeping with his reputation as a fighter, Traficant announced on the floor of the House last year that he has launched his own investigation of the FBI and Justice Department, accusing the agencies of being "on the payroll of the Mob." In March 2000, Traficant vowed to fight the anticipated indictment, just as he had in 1983.
"Enough is enough. I'm announcing formally today that I am once again a target of the Justice Department," he said. "I plan to fight like a junkyard dog, and if I die in that courtroom, bring it on."
Few of his fellow Democrats are likely to come to Traficant's defense. He outraged his caucus earlier this year by casting his vote for speaker of the House to Republican Rep. Dennis Hastert of Illinois. Since then, both Republicans and Democrats have refused to give him committee assignments.