CBSN

Ex-con, former Rep. Jim Traficant dies at 73

Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio, waits before a House Inquiry Subcommittee hearing to examine whether he violated congressional rules on Capitol Hill in Washington July 17, 2002.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Former Rep. Jim Traficant, D-Ohio, died Saturday morning at a hospital in Youngstown, the area that he represented for almost two decades in the U.S. House of Representatives, family attorney Heidi Hanni confirmed to CBS News. He was 73 years old.

Traficant was hospitalized Wednesday after a tractor accident at his farm in Green Township, about 20 miles from Youngstown. According to law enforcement officials, the former congressman was driving his tractor when it flipped over, pinning him underneath. When the police arrived, Traficant was unconscious. He was quickly transported to a hospital, where he remained in dire condition until his death.

Though his eccentric manner and long service on Capitol Hill endeared him to many constituents in Ohio's struggling industrial belt, which had been decimated by the collapse of the U.S. steel industry, Traficant was primarily remembered for the charges of racketeering and corruption that landed him in prison in 2002.

Among the accusations leveled at Traficant: he used campaign money to fund personal expenditures, he accepted bribes, he evaded taxation, and he forced aides to perform tasks at his home and family farm.

Traficant was convicted on 10 felony counts in April 2002 and sentenced to federal prison, where he was incarcerated for seven years. He was expelled from the House by a vote of 420 to 1 in July of that year, marking the first time a member was forcibly expelled from Congress in over two decades.

Even while he was behind bars, Traficant earned 15 percent of his district's vote as an independent candidate in the 2002 midterm elections. A former aide, Democrat Tim Ryan, ultimately won the seat.

In 17 years on Capitol Hill, he cut quite the distinctive figure. He was known for his unique haircut, with its elaborately coiffured top and long sideburns, as well as the phrase he used to close many of his floor speeches: "Beam me up!"

Traficant was a Democrat, but he frequently broke with his party, particularly on the question of abortion rights, which he opposed, and immigration, which he wanted to limit.

Traficant was born in Youngstown in 1941. He attended college at the University of Pittsburgh and later obtained graduate degrees from Pitt and Youngstown State University. After several decades working with drug prevention campaigns and a brief stint as the sheriff of Mahoning County, he was first elected to Congress in 1984, where he stayed until his expulsion in 2002.

Shortly after his release from prison in 2009, Traficant sought a return to Congress, running to reclaim his old seat as an independent candidate in the 2010 midterms. He was again defeated by Ryan.