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Congressman Traficant Indicted

A federal grand jury on Friday indicted Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. on charges of bribery, racketeering and other counts.

Under a cloud of this corruption investigation for years, Traficant — who rails regularly on the House floor against the IRS and federal law enforcement agencies — has been saying for months he expected to be indicted, reports CBS News Correspondent Bob Fuss.

The 10-count, 41-page indictment alleges that Traficant accepted "things of value" for political influence while serving as a congressman representing the Youngstown area in northeastern Ohio.

The U.S. Justice Department has been probing corruption in eastern Ohio's Mahoning Valley for several years. Since the first indictments in December 1997, more than 70 people have been convicted, including a judge, a prosecutor, a sheriff and a Traficant aide, Charles O'Nesti, who has since died.

Traficant, who turns 60 next week, was first elected to Congress in 1984. Despite the expected indictment, he won re-election to a ninth term in November by winning 50 percent of the vote in a three-way race.

The government's probe is believed to have examined whether Traficant broke tax laws or House rules by accepting free use of a Chevrolet Corvette and the gift of an Avanti luxury car, as well as the price Traficant paid for construction of a pole barn on a farm that he once owned and where he still keeps horses.

Traficant has said he is prepared to defend himself in court, although he is not a lawyer. He did the same thing in 1983 when he was acquitted of accepting mob bribes while Mahoning County sheriff. He lost a U.S. Tax Court case in 1987 stemming from the same issues.

Since announcing he was a probe target, Traficant has been on a personal crusade against the U.S. Justice Department. An angry Traficant took to the House floor in March 2000 and vowed to "fight like a junkyard dog" against any federal charge him.

Anticipating the announcement Friday, Traficant told reporters Friday morning near Youngstown that "I'm as frightened as anyone can be. I'm going to say this to the U.S. attorneys. You'd best defeat me, because if I beat you, you'll be working in Mingo Junction." That is a small town in eastern Ohio.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Morford, who has been the lead prosecutor in the Youngstown-area corruption cases, would not comment on the indictment.

House ethics rules bar members or "anyone with whom the member has a professional or legal relationship" from benefiting directly from money representatives use to pay expenses.

Some subpoenaed rent records reportedly concerned Traficant's district office, which is in a building owned by Kimberly Sinclair. Her husband, attorney R. Allen Sinclair, was hired onto Traficant's staff the same month his wife bought the building.

He made repeated corruption accusations against the FBI, former U.S. Attorney Janet Reno and federal prosecutors in Ohio. He also introduced legislation testablish an independent federal agency to investigate the Justice Department.

"FBI agents in the northern district of Ohio have been on the payroll of the mob," Traficant said on the House floor in June. "They have been bankrolled by the mob."

Traficant also has claimed that an FBI informant, in writing, has said the FBI asked him to commit murder.

The congressman has long been a popular figure in the blue-collar area he represents.

Traficant, a former University of Pittsburgh quarterback, seems to thrive on controversy and unabashedly promotes Youngstown, a city known for being a battleground for rival Cleveland and Pittsburgh mob families.

The town also has struggled for decades to recover from the sudden closing of old steel mills — long the underpinning of the area's economy — in the late 1970s.

Traficant's always-mussed tuft of hair, no-nonsense delivery and affinity for polyester or plaid clothing have made one of the most recognizable figures on Capitol Hill.

Traficant is known for his often flamboyant speeches and for voting with the Republcians. When he went so far as to vote against his own party leader in the speaker's election, he was basically banished by fellow Democrats and stripped of all his committee assignments.

When speaking on the House floor, he usually at some point invokes "Beam me up!" — a line borrowed from TV's "Star Trek" — to show his disgust at something in government he finds particularly outrageous. The tax code is a frequent target.

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