An Ohio jury, weary from weeks of a courtroom circus orchestrated by a political embarrassment named Jim Traficant, found the nine-term Congressman guilty on 10 federal counts for racketeering, bribery and fraud.
In other words, the law finally caught up with Traficant, a blustery former sheriff who thought the law only applied to others.
The Ohio Congressman can, and should, be bounced from the House of Representatives. Even House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt, who would defend Adolph Hitler if he were a Democrat, called Traficant an embarrassment to Congress and said he should resign.
Traficant, in typical bombastic style, called his conviction a conspiracy against him, promised to appeal, and vowed never to quit his job in Congress.
Which means the House must throw the lying, criminal bastard out on the street where he belongs.
God knows Traficant isn’t the only crook on the Hill. The halls of both the House and Senate are littered with check kiters, wife beaters, scam artists and thieves. Neither party can claim any moral high ground when it comes to harboring criminal elements within their midst.
But even in a den of thieves, Jim Traficant set new lows, establishing a level of moral depravity that shocked even the most cynical Congress-watcher.
Eighteen years ago, Traficant arrived on the Hill under a cloud, having beaten corruption charges while serving as a sheriff back in Ohio. But Traficant was the Hill’s O.J. Simpson, a man everyone knew was guilty, even if a jury of his peers was too stupid to convict him.
Physically, Traficant didn’t fit the usual blow-dried Congressional mold. His suits were often dirty and wrinkled, his tie spotted and his multi-hued hair askew. On the floor of Congress, he usually looked and acted like a man coming off a four-day bender.
The rumor mill went into overdrive. Traficant was on the take. He demanded kickbacks from his staff, from lobbyists, from constituents. The con man saw everybody as a mark and Congress became a playground for his grifting.
Traficant ‘s ego, already inflated when he arrived, ballooned to massive proportions, even by Washington standards. He bragged about beating the law and told anyone who listened that he was untouchable.
“They want to get me, but they’re afraid,” he told a reporter in 1996. “I know too much. I can bury them all.”
Washington, however, is a karma-driven town, and it all came around for Jim Traficant. The feds filed 10 charges against him, saying he took kickbacks, evaded taxes, accepted bribes and defrauded just about everyone unfortunate enough to come in contact with him.
Traficant, of course, vowed to beat the system once again, declaring that no lawyer was smart enough to defend him. He chose to defend him self, proving that the only thing worse than a lawyer who is stupid enough to defend himself is a non-lawyer who thinks he can defend himself. He had defended himself 19 years ago and won, so he figured he could do it again.
He was wrong. He turned the trial into a circus, often confronting the judge, screaming and shouting at the prosecutor and witnesses. This time, the jury didn’t buy the act and the verdict came down: Guilty on all counts.
Traficant faces up to 60 years in prison. He probably won’t get a sentence anywhere near that, but he will go to jail. Even he admits his chances on appeal are slim.
But quit? No way, Traficant says. If Congress wants him out, then they will have to throw him out.
If Congress has any balls, they will do just that. A housecleaning is long overdue and Jim Traficant is the best place to start.