James Traficant

Last updated

Jim Traficant
Member of the U.S.HouseofRepresentatives
from Ohio's 17th district
In office
January 3, 1985 July 24, 2002

James Anthony Traficant Jr. ( /ˈtræfɪkənt/ TRAF-ih-kənt; May 8, 1941 – September 27, 2014) was an American politician who served as a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives from Ohio. A staunch economic populist known for his flamboyant personality, [1] 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.


Traficant was expelled from the House on July 24, 2002, 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. [2] 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. [3] [4] He was of mostly Italian and Hungarian ancestry. [5] 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. [6] 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. [7] [8] 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. [9]

Early career

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. [10] 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. 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. [11] Traficant's career in Youngstown served as the focus of Crooked City: Youngstown, OH., a podcast produced by Marc Smerling. [12]

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. [13] [14]

Publicity from the RICO trial increased Traficant's local visibility. He was elected in 1984 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.[ citation needed ]

U.S. House of Representatives

Traficant's official congressional portrait, 1997 James Traficant 105th Congress 1997.jpg
Traficant's official congressional portrait, 1997

Traficant was infamous during his time in Congress for his short, rambling, and often crude rants on the House floor, often decrying his key issues such as his opposition to free trade and the IRS. He usually ended his speeches with the phrase "beam me up", a Star Trek reference. He also became known for his flamboyant fashion sense - including cowboy boots and polyester suits - and his toupee. [1] [15]

While in Congress, Traficant was a supporter of immigration reduction. [16] 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. Traficant was also known for frequently pushing to include "Buy American" provisions in spending bills. [17]

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. [18]

Traficant twice [19] asked the FBI to investigate the missing persons case of Philip Taylor Kramer, whose family he knew. [20] The FBI opened a case, but did not launch a new criminal investigation, although it did assist the Ventura County sheriff's office in the matter. Traficant's office also did some investigation of its own. [21]

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 nicknamed "Ivan the Terrible". [22] For almost a decade, Traficant, along with Pat Buchanan, [23] 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 reasonable 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. [24]

Defense of Arthur Rudolph

Following Buchanan's recommendation to reconsider the denaturalization of former Nazi and NASA scientist Arthur Rudolph, who had been brought to the United States as part of Operation Paperclip, Traficant spoke to the Friends of Arthur Rudolph, an organization based in Huntsville, Alabama. [25] He argued that denaturalization had happened because of a "powerful Jewish lobby" influencing Congress. [25] He added that it was a violation of a U.S. citizen's civil rights, and he suggested that Rudolph return to the United States nonetheless. [25] Additionally, he "introduced a resolution in Congress [...] calling for an investigation into the OSI's handling of Rudolph's case." [25] Meanwhile, in 1990, Traficant had planned to meet Rudolph at Niagara Falls, on the Canadian–American border, but Rudolph was arrested by immigration officials in Toronto, and the meeting never occurred. [25]

Trial and expulsion

On May 4, 2001, Traficant was indicted on federal corruption charges for taking campaign funds for personal use. [26] 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. [27]

On July 30, 2002, U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells sentenced Traficant to eight years in prison and fined him $150,000 following his conviction on 10 counts of bribery, racketeering and tax evasion. [28]

Eventually, the House Ethics Committee recommended that Traficant be expelled from Congress. On July 24, the House voted to expel him with 420 members voting yes, 1 member voting no, 9 members voting 'present', and 4 members not voting. [29] 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. [30] Traficant was the first person to be expelled from the House of Representatives since Michael Myers who was expelled in 1980 as a result of the Abscam scandal. [31]

After his expulsion, Traficant ran as an independent candidate for another term in the House while incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary, Allenwood. [32] He received 28,045 votes, or 15 percent. Traficant was one of only a few people in U.S. history to seek federal office while incarcerated. Tim Ryan, a former aide to Traficant, won the election. [31]

Prison and later life


Traficant entered the Federal Correctional Institution, Allenwood Low, on August 6, 2002, [33] with the Federal Bureau of Prisons ID # 31213-060. [34] 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." [35] During the seven years of his incarceration, Traficant refused any visitors, saying that he did not want anyone to see him. He was released on September 2, 2009, at age 68, and was subject to three years of supervised release. [36]

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 [37] 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. [38]


Traficant was released from prison on September 2, 2009. [34] 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. [39]

On November 2, 2009, a column by Traficant in the American Free Press continued his defense of the accused concentration camp guard John Demjanjuk. [40]

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. [41] Traficant lost the election to his former aide, Tim Ryan, [42] to whom he lost an earlier race in 2002. [31] Traficant received 30,556 votes, or 16%. [43]

Post-prison life

After his release from prison, Traficant was featured as a guest speaker at a Tea Party protest in Columbiana, Ohio. [44]

Traficant began a grassroots campaign in July 2014, Project Freedom USA, [45] [ better source needed ] to, among other things, put pressure on Congress to get rid of the IRS and "divorce" the Federal Reserve. [46] [ better source needed ] He continued to live on the farm that he had purchased in 1987. [47]

Accident and death

Traficant was injured in an accident at his farm in Greenford, Ohio, 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". [48]

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. [49] [50] 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. [51]

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. [52]


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U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Ohio's 17th congressional district

Succeeded by