James A. Traficant, Jr. dead at age 73
James Traficant, the colorful Ohio politician whose conviction for taking bribes and kickbacks made him only the second person to be expelled from Congress since the Civil War, died Saturday. He was 73.
Saturday, September 27th 2014, 11:58 AM EDT
Thursday, October 2nd 2014, 8:10 AM EDT
From 1981 to 1985 James Traficant, who liked to be called Jimbo, made his meteoric rise in valley politics as Sheriff when he refused to serve eviction notices on folks whose homes were being foreclosed upon by banks. The region had faced the loss of about 4,000 steel manufacturing jobs on Black Monday, September 17, 1977, and in the ten years that followed a loss of about 40,000 manufacturing jobs would follow. His actions created his reputation as a fighter and champion for blue class workers for decades.
In 1983 Sheriff Traficant represented himself beating the Federal Government on a charge of racketeering, for allegedly accepting bribes from the mob. Traficant represented himself in Federal Court, claiming he took the mob money as part of a sting operation he was conducting. He won that case sealing his reputation as a victor in the valley.
In 1987 he lost the criminal tax evasion case prosecuted by a new young U.S. Attorney Craig Morford, thus began his out spoken battle with the Internal Revenue Service, or IRS, which he referred to as the, "Internal Rectal Service."
In 1981 Traficant was voted into Congress. Voters in the 17th District elected him to office 9 terms. During his 17 years in office he became known for his bad hair which he often joked was cut with a weed wacker. He could be found on Capitol Hill wearing bell bottoms, and polyester suits. He also was known for colorful and outrageous one minute speeches on the House Floor. Traficant said during one of his speeches about the IRS, "If they continue to lie, I am going to kick them in the crotch." Another time he said, "Mr. Speaker, Beam me up." "There is no intelligent life in Congress in the U.S." "Beam me up," was one of the Congressman's favorite phrases.
Congressman Traficant passed "Buy American," legislation. He sounded the alarm about government debt risking our nation's security. He made national news by voting against the budget and his own party. Traficant explained he would rather shut the government down than vote for a bill that put our country at risk. The talk show host Phil Donahue brought his show to Stambaugh Auditorium that year. He was outspoken against trade agreements. He was proud of his work with the Republican party to help change laws so the IRS must bear the burden of proof in cases it brings against people and businesses. His defense of two accused Nazis, the first a NASA worker, the second an autoworker, brought criticism by many, applause by others. At times he was an outspoken critic of Israel.
April 15, 2002 Congressman Traficant was convicted of taking bribes, filing false tax returns, racketeering, and forcing his aides to work on his house boat in Washington D.C., and at his family farm. It was free work done by a contractor at the farm that began the criminal investigation that led to the convictions. Some jurors talked with reporters afterwards saying they looked for reasons not to convict him, but added "There was just too much evidence presented against him."
One of his last acts as Congressman, Traficant secured funds with Republican support, to build an entertainment complex in Youngstown now known as the Covelli Centre. The House Ethics committee voted to expel Traficant July 24 by a vote of 420 to one. Traficant a convicted felon maintained to the end this prosecution was an FBI vendetta for winning against the Federal Government in his 1983 trial. Traficant said, "Everybody in Ohio knows I'm being railroaded."
He was released from PRISON September 2, 2009 and came home to hundreds of supporters. There were yellow ribbons tied around trees, and a dinner to welcome him home. Traficant joined a radio show for a short time and wrote a book. In August 2012 two hundred copies of his book sold out in 15 minutes. At that book signing his charisma still in tact, Traficant said, "Come up here you divas," to several elderly women, who were waiting for him to autograph their book. He also made jokes about the IRS which had garnished his Congressional checks.
In 2010 Traficant ran for Congress again, losing to his one time Congressional Aide, Congressman Tim Ryan. He had lost a prior race to Ryan in 2002.
The man who liked to be known as the, "Son of a Truck Driver," had two masters degrees, one from the University of Pittsburgh, the second from Youngstown State University. Traficant passed away September 27, 2014 following an accident on a tractor at his daughter's farm. The farm is the same one which triggered the investigation into kickbacks back in 2002.
Traficant was protective of his family and shielded them from public life. Some people describe him a thug who squandered the trust the public placed in him, others describe him as a hero who stood up for himself and the little guy. Most who followed his life found him charismatic, and unforgettable. James Anthony Traficant, Jr. was born May 8, 1941. He passed away September 27, 2014 at the age of 73.