Traficant Allegedly Sought Labor Peace in Exchange for Personal Construction Work

U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant (D-Ohio) asked a grocer to build him a barn and buy him a truck in exchange for helping settle a union dispute, according to documents filed Dec. 21 in U.S. Dist. Court in Cleveland. Federal prosecutors said businessman Henry Nemenz gave Traficant more than $115,000 in work and gifts. They say it illustrates how Youngstown Democrat routinely shook down businessmen. Traficant is scheduled to go on trial in Feb. on a 10-count indictment that alleges he took free work and meals from contractors in exchange for helping them with business needs. Nemenz is the seventh businessman who prosecutors said did work for Traficant in exchange for favors. Traficant denies wrongdoing. Nemenz has never been charged and will testify in Traficant’s trial about the work and gifts.

When Nemenz tired of Traficant’s requests for additional work, the contractor demanded payment. Traficant allegedly said he couldn’t afford to pay him. Traficant later reimbursed him for about a third of what Nemenz paid out of his pocket, leaving Nemenz unpaid for more than $50,000 of work, according to the documents. The barn and materials cost more than $89,000.

Nemenz became friends with Traficant in 1994, when the congressman began serving as host of a show at Nemenz’s radio station, WRRO, in Warren, Ohio. As they talked, Nemenz told Traficant that he owned several grocery stores and that he was having trouble with informational pickets by the United Food & Commercial Workers Int’l Union. Traficant allegedly said he would work to eliminate or drastically reduce the pickets.

Traficant allegedly told Nemenz that he needed repairs at his home and horse farm but couldn’t afford to pay for them. He also allegedly told Nemenz that he had financial trouble because the IRS garnished his wages over a 1980s tax case.Traficant asked whether Nemenz’s construction company, could build a pole barn for his horses.

Prosecutors said that in exchange for his work, Traficant did a radio broadcast at one of Nemenz’s grocery stores, urging residents to cross the pickets and shop. Traficant’s staff also set up meetings with union bosses, though the union continued to picket.

Prosecutors also contended that Nemenz bought a truck for Traficant, made about $17,000 in payments on it and paid to insure it. He also lent Traficant a Chevrolet Corvette for several months.

Throughout their relationship, Traficant often stalled on payments, saying his work on behalf of the grocer “caused him great political problems with organized labor,” the documents said. Traficant agreed to pay Nemenz only after the businessman threatened to sue him. To resolve the situation, Traficant paid Nemenz about $25,000, and Nemenz transferred the truck title to him, prosecutors said. Traficant allegedly did not mention the vehicles or the work on his financial disclosure forms or on his federal tax returns. [Cleveland Plain Dealer 12/22/01]