|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from Ohio's 17th district
January 3, 1985 – July 24, 2002
|Preceded by||Lyle Williams|
|Succeeded by||Tim Ryan|
|Sheriff of Mahoning County|
|Preceded by||George D. Tablack|
|Succeeded by||Edward Nemeth|
James Anthony Traficant Jr.
May 8, 1941
Youngstown, Ohio, U.S.
|Died||September 27, 2014 (aged 73)|
Poland, Ohio, U.S.
|Political party||Democratic (before 2002)|
|Education||University of Pittsburgh (BS, MS)|
Youngstown State University (MS)
James Anthony Traficant Jr. (May 8, 1941 – September 27, 2014) was an American politician who served as a Democratic, and later independent, member of the United States House of Representatives from Ohio. He represented the 17th Congressional District, which centered on his hometown of Youngstown and included parts of three counties in northeast Ohio's Mahoning Valley. He was expelled from the House after being convicted of ten felony counts, including taking bribes, filing false tax returns, racketeering, and forcing his congressional staff to perform chores at his farm in Ohio and houseboat in Washington, D.C. He was sentenced to prison and released on September 2, 2009, after serving a seven-year sentence.
Traficant died on September 27, 2014, following a tractor accident at his farm in Green Township, Ohio.
Early life and education
Born into a working-class Catholic family in Youngstown, Ohio, Traficant was the son of Agnes (née Farkas) and James Anthony Traficant Sr. He was of mostly Italian and Hungarian ancestry. Traficant graduated from Cardinal Mooney High School in 1959 before receiving a B.S. in education from the University of Pittsburgh in 1963. He played quarterback for Pitt's football team, and his teammates included Mike Ditka. Traficant was drafted in the NFL's twentieth round (276th overall) by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1963, and tried out for the Steelers and the Oakland Raiders of the American Football League, but did not play professionally. He later obtained an M.S. in educational administration from the University of Pittsburgh in 1973 and a second master's degree in counseling from Youngstown State University in 1976.
At the start of his career, Traficant was the consumer finance director for the Youngstown Community Action Program. He taught courses on drug and alcohol dependency and recovery at Youngstown State University and Kent State University, as well as lecturing on drug and alcohol abuse for colleges and government agencies outside Ohio. In addition, Traficant taught at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy. He was the executive director of the Mahoning County Drug Program from 1971 to 1981, and Sheriff of Mahoning County from 1981 to 1985. While serving as sheriff, Traficant made national headlines by refusing to execute foreclosure orders on several unemployed homeowners, many of whom had been left out of work. This endeared him to the local population, which was dealing with a declining economy following the closures and relocations of steel making and steel-associated businesses. Traficant's career in Youngstown served as the focus of Crooked City: Youngstown, OH., a podcast produced by Marc Smerling.
In 1983, he was charged with racketeering for accepting bribes. Traficant, who represented himself in the criminal trial, argued that he accepted the bribes only as part of his own alleged secret undercover investigation into corruption. Traficant was acquitted of the charges, becoming the only person ever to win a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) case while representing himself.
Publicity from the RICO trial increased Traficant's local visibility. He was elected as a Democrat to Congress from Ohio's 17th District, defeating Lyle Williams, a three-term Republican incumbent. He was reelected eight times without serious opposition.
In 2002, he was convicted of ten felony counts, including bribery, racketeering, and tax evasion.
U.S. House of Representatives
This section needs additional citations for verification. (June 2019)
While in Congress, Traficant was a supporter of immigration reduction, and a strong opponent of illegal immigration. In the controversy surrounding the defeat of Congressman Bob Dornan (R-CA) by Democrat Loretta Sanchez, Traficant was the only Democratic member of Congress who advocated a new election, owing to Dornan's allegations of voting in that race by undocumented immigrants. The allegations went unproven, and a new election was not held.
Traficant's major legislative accomplishment in the House was the adoption of some of his proposals to constrain enforcement activities by the Internal Revenue Service against delinquent taxpayers.
After the Republicans took control of the House in 1995, Traficant tended to vote more often with the Republicans than with his own party. On the issue of abortion, Traficant voted with the position of the National Right to Life Committee 95% of the time in the 105th Congress, and 100% of the time in the 106th and 107th Congresses. However, he voted against all four articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton. After he voted for Republican Dennis Hastert for Speaker of the House in 2001, the Democrats stripped him of his seniority and refused to give him any committee assignments. Because the Republicans did not assign him to any committees either, Traficant became the first member of the House of Representatives in over a century—outside the top leadership—to lack a single committee assignment.
Defense of John Demjanjuk
Traficant championed the unpopular case of John Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian-born autoworker from Seven Hills who had been convicted in Israel and sentenced to hang for having been the brutal Nazi concentration camp guard Ivan the Terrible. For almost a decade, Traficant (along with Pat Buchanan) insisted that Demjanjuk had been denied a fair trial, and been the victim of mistaken identity; in 1993 the Supreme Court of Israel overturned the conviction, on the basis of doubt. Demjanjuk was later deported to Germany on May 11, 2009, after the Supreme Court of the United States refused to overturn his deportation order. Demjanjuk was tried and convicted by a German criminal court of being an accessory to murder, but died before the German Appellate Court could hear his case, thereby voiding the conviction.
Defense of Arthur Rudolph
Following Pat Buchanan's recommendation to reconsider the denaturalization of former Nazi and NASA scientist Arthur Rudolph, who had been brought to the United States under Operation Paperclip, Traficant spoke to the Friends of Arthur Rudolph, an organization based in Huntsville, Alabama. He argued that denaturalization had happened because of a "powerful Jewish lobby" influencing Congress. He added that it was a violation of a United States citizen's civil rights, and he suggested that Rudolph return to the United States nonetheless. Additionally, he "introduced a resolution in Congress [...] calling for an investigation into the OSI's handling of Rudolph's case." Meanwhile, in 1990, Traficant had planned to meet Rudolph in Niagara Falls, on the Canadian–American border; however, Rudolph was arrested by immigration officials in Toronto, and the meeting never occurred.
Trial and expulsion
In 2001, Traficant was indicted on federal corruption charges for taking campaign funds for personal use. Again, he opted to represent himself, insisting that the trial was part of a vendetta against him dating back to his 1983 trial. After a two-month federal trial, on April 11, 2002, he was convicted of ten felony counts including bribery, racketeering, and tax evasion. Per longstanding House convention, House Democrats directed him not to cast any votes pending an investigation by the United States House Committee on Ethics.
Eventually, the House Ethics Committee recommended that Traficant be expelled from Congress. On July 24, the House voted to expel him in a 420-1 vote. The sole vote against expulsion was Representative Gary Condit, who at the time was in the midst of a scandal of his own and had been defeated in his reelection primary. Traficant was the first representative to be expelled since Michael Myers in 1980 as a result of the Abscam scandal.
After his expulsion, Traficant ran as an independent candidate for another term in the House while incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary, Allenwood. He received 28,045 votes, or 15 percent, and became one of only a handful of individuals in the history of the United States to run for a federal office from prison. The election was won by one of his former aides, Tim Ryan.
Prison and later life
Traficant entered the Federal Correctional Institution, Allenwood Low, on August 6, 2002, with the Federal Bureau of Prisons ID # 31213-060. He served his first seventeen months at Allenwood. He claimed that he was put in solitary confinement shortly after his arrival for incitement to riot after he told a guard, "People can't hear you. Speak up." During the seven years of his incarceration, Traficant refused any visitors, saying that he didn't want anyone to see him. He was released on September 2, 2009, at age 68, and was subject to three years of supervised release.
While in prison, Traficant received support from neo-Nazi David Duke, who urged visitors to his personal website to donate to his personal fund. Duke posted a letter written by Traficant stating that he was targeted by the United States Department of Justice for, among other things, defending John Demjanjuk. Traficant also claimed, in the letter, that he knew facts about "Waco, Ruby Ridge, Pan Am Flight 103, Jimmy Hoffa and the John F. Kennedy assassination", which he may divulge in the future. Author Michael Collins Piper, who wrote Target: Traficant, The Untold Story initially helped circulate Traficant's letter, said that "There's stuff I've written about Traficant that's showing up in places I don't even know. It's like (six) degrees of separation with the Internet now," and denied that Traficant had any direct connections to Duke.
Traficant was released from prison on September 2, 2009. On September 6, 2009, 1,200 supporters welcomed him home at a banquet with an Elvis impersonator, and a Traficant lookalike contest. "Welcome home Jimbo" was printed on T-shirts. "I think it's time to tell the FBI and the IRS that this is our country and we're tired—tired of the pressure, tired of the political targeting, tired of a powerful central government that is crippling America," he said. He also said he was considering running for his old seat in Congress. Traficant signed a limited, three-month contract to work as a part-time weekend talk radio host for Cleveland news/talk station WTAM in January 2010. His contract permitted him to quit if he chose to run for office.
On November 2, 2009, a column by Traficant in the American Free Press continued his defense of the accused concentration camp guard John Demjanjuk. Michael Collins Piper defended Traficant against his accusers.
2010 congressional campaign
In September 2010, Traficant was certified to run for the same seat he held before his expulsion, and said that his platform would be to repeal the Sixteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Traficant lost the election to his former aide Tim Ryan, to whom he lost an earlier race in 2002, in which Traficant ran as an independent from his prison cell. Traficant received 30,556 votes, or 16%.
Accident and death
Traficant was injured in an accident at his farm on September 23, 2014. A tractor he was driving into a pole barn flipped over and trapped him underneath. Traficant was taken to Salem Regional Medical Center in Salem, Ohio, then airlifted to St. Elizabeth's Health Center in Youngstown. On the evening of September 24, his wife described him as "sedated and not doing well."
By September 26, via news reports and statements from attorney and family spokesman Heidi Hanni, it was learned that the family was awaiting the doctors' assessment; there was no word as to whether or not Traficant had suffered a heart attack, but he was still unconscious and was being sedated for pain and other reasons. A number of longtime family friends, including Linda Kovachik, a former congressional aide to Traficant, told The Vindicator that it is believed Traficant had a heart attack, causing the tractor accident.
A text message was sent out Friday evening September 26 by Jim Condit Jr., the Constitution Party candidate for Ohio's 8th congressional district and a close friend who had been traveling with Traficant to help promote Project Freedom USA. The text message stated that "the machines were disconnected at 2:00 p.m. (Friday). He is still breathing. Thousands are praying." On September 27, 2014, Traficant died at a hospice in Poland, Ohio, aged 73. By September 29, Traficant's body had been buried in an undisclosed location after the family had a private funeral, and announced that there would be no public funeral for him.
A subsequent medical investigation determined that Traficant had not had a heart attack or seizure before the accident, and was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In addition, he had not sustained any crushing injuries in the accident. The forensic pathologist who conducted the examination attributed Traficant's death to positional asphyxiation, stating that he had been unable to breathe because of the weight of the tractor on top of him.
- Piper, Michael Collins (2005). Target: Traficant, The Untold Story. American Free Press. ISBN 978-0981808611.
- Traficant, James (2011). America's Last Minuteman. New York: Sports Calendar International. ISBN 978-1-889036-01-4.
- List of United States representatives from Ohio
- List of United States representatives expelled, censured, or reprimanded
- List of American federal politicians convicted of crimes
- List of federal political scandals in the United States
- "Traficant guilty of bribery, racketeering". CNN. April 12, 2002. Archived from the original on October 10, 2002.
- Jerome, Richard. "To the Bitter End – Crime & Courts". People. Retrieved March 27, 2013.
- Mass, Parties Fete Traficants on Anniversary, Youngstown Vindicator, June 15, 1977
- Frank, Dana (2000). Buy American: The Untold Story of Economic Nationalism – Dana Frank – Google Books. ISBN 9780807047118. Retrieved March 27, 2013.
- Simonich, Milan (April 12, 2002). "Rep. James Traficant: 'He's perceived ... to have almost magical powers'". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Pittsburgh, PA.
- Snell, Jack (June 20, 1963). "Steelers Sign all but Four Draft Choices: Pitt's Traficant Still Undecided". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- "Steelers Cut Jim Traficant" (UPI). Beaver County Times. July 27, 1963.
- U.S. Government Printing Office, 1993–1994 Official Congressional Directory, 1993, page 238
- U.S. Government Printing Office, Congressional Directory, 1999, page 213
- Peyko, Mark C (February 28, 2002). "Notes From Youngstown: The Angry Voice of a City Left Behind". The New York Times. Retrieved March 24, 2008.
- "Youngstown Crime Podcast top ten in the world". www.wfmj.com. Retrieved August 9, 2022.
- Scott A. Frisch, Sean Q. Kelly, Committee Assignment Politics in the U.S. House of Representatives, 2006, page 170
- Congressional Quarterly, Traficant Responds Defiantly to Corruption Indictment, Volume 59, 2001, page 989
- "All Immigration Votes of Representative James Traficant." NumbersUSA. Accessed January 6, 2008.
- Rizzo, Katherine (May 8, 2001). "Armey: GOP doesn't want Traficant". Lubbockonline.com. Associated Press. Retrieved March 27, 2013.
- "Traficant says he would testify for Demjanjuk". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. October 30, 2009. Archived from the original on April 15, 2013. Retrieved October 5, 2012.
- Buchanan, Pat (2011-05-13) Demjanjuk Convicted – By the KGB, The American Conservative
- Aderet, Ofer (March 23, 2012). "News article: Convicted Nazi criminal Demjanjuk deemed innocent in Germany over technicality". Haaretz.com. Retrieved July 4, 2012.
- Laney, Monique (2015). German Rocketeers in the Heart of Dixie: Making Sense of the Nazi Past During the Civil Rights Era. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. pp. 173–174. ISBN 978-0-300-19803-4.
- "In the Matter of Representative James A. Traficant Jr" (REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON STANDARDS OF OFFICIAL CONDUCT). U.S. House of Representatives. July 24, 2002.
- Trandahl, Jeff (July 24, 2002). "Final Vote Results for Roll Call 346". clerk.house.gov. Clerk of the United States House of Representatives. Retrieved March 22, 2012.
- "Traficant arrives at federal prison". CNN. August 6, 2002. Archived from the original on October 10, 2009. Retrieved November 13, 2009.
- Christian, Nichole M.; Cushman Jr, John H.; Day, Sherri; Dillon, Sam; Lewis, Neil A.; Pear, Robert; Pristin, Terry; Shenon, Philip; Steinberg, Jacques (November 7, 2002). "The 2002 Elections: Midwest; Ohio". The New York Times. Retrieved May 20, 2013.
- "Traficant arrives at federal prison". CNN. August 6, 2002. Retrieved July 8, 2018.
- "JAMES A TRAFICANT JR." Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved on May 29, 2010.
- Van Susteren, Greta (September 10, 2009). "Exclusive: Traficant – 'I Was a Target. ... I Must Have Been Doing Something Right'". Fox News. Retrieved November 13, 2009.
- Merchant, Norman (September 2, 2009). "Ex-congressman Traficant freed". Canton Rep. Associated Press. Retrieved September 29, 2009.
- Piper, Michael (2005). Target: Traficant: the outrageous inside story of how the Justice Department, the Israeli lobby and the American mass media conspired to set up and take down Congressman Jim Traficant. Washington, D.C.: American Free Press. ISBN 0981808611. ISBN 978-0981808611
- Rodgers, Bill (August 30, 2009). "White nationalists, conspiracy theorists join Traficant's cause". Tribune Chronicle. Archived from the original on September 1, 2009. Retrieved January 15, 2017.
- "Traficant lands a part-time job on radio". The Vindicator. Youngstown, Ohio. January 5, 2010. Retrieved March 27, 2013.
- "Former Congressman Traficant to Contribute Column to Anti-Semitic Newspaper". Anti-Defamation League. November 2, 2009. Archived from the original on February 12, 2011. Retrieved October 5, 2012.
- "Traficant files petitions to be candidate for Akron congressional district". Akron Beacon Journal. May 3, 2010. Archived from the original on June 15, 2011.
- O'Brian, Dan (September 1, 2009). "Traficant Draws Cheers at TEA Party". The Business Journal.
- Barr, Andy (December 30, 2009). "Traficant: 'I'm going to run'". Politico.
- "Project Freedom USA". Retrieved September 27, 2014.
- Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Traficant launches Project Freedom". YouTube. Retrieved September 28, 2014.
- Eaton, Sabina (September 24, 2014). "Ex. Rep. Jim Traficant is seriously injured in tractor accident". Cleveland Plain Dealer. Retrieved September 25, 2014.
- Skolnick, David (September 27, 2014). "Youngstown News, Former congressman no longer on respirator, still unconscious". The Vindicator.
- "James Traficant obituary: Colorful, expelled and jailed ex-congressman dies". Los Angeles Times. September 27, 2014. Retrieved September 28, 2014.
- "James A. Traficant Jr. dead at age 73". WFMJ-TV. September 27, 2014. Retrieved September 27, 2014.
- No public funeral for Jim Traficant WFMJ-TV (09/29/2014)
- "Former Rep. Traficant didn't have heart attack, seizure before tractor death, pathologist says" (Associated Press). The Plain Dealer. September 30, 2014.
- Biography at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- "Look at what Traficant swept under the rug" – CNN, August 1, 2002
- Traficant quarterbacking Pitt over Navy
- Official Website by Nicky Nelson & Jim Condit Jr., Project Freedom USA
- James Traficant - A Tribute (Video) by Mike Wayne