Just Your Average Office Exorcism

Posted January 14, 2003 at 6:31pm

As former Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio) languishes in the Allenwood Federal Correctional Institution in central Pennsylvania, serving eight years on bribery, racketeering and corruption charges, some on Capitol Hill are still trying to erase any sign of his presence here.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) is the latest to join the list. Blumenauer is taking over Traficant’s old offices in the Rayburn House Office Building, but not before exorcising the ghost of the nine-term lawmaker and former lawman from the digs.

In Traficant-inspired clothes — a leisure suit and wig — and with a helping hand from Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Blumenauer will “perform a cleansing ritual of the office” Jan. 29 and reclaim it on behalf of the state of Oregon. Former Rep. Les AuCoin (D-Ore.) was a longtime tenant of that office before Traficant took it over in January 1993.

As part of the cleansing ritual, Blumenauer plans to burn a smudge stick. The theory behind smudge sticks, a tradition for many American Indian tribes, is that smoke from the burning stick, made of sacred herbs, attaches itself to any negative energy present. The negative energy is then released as the smoke clears and, hopefully, regenerated as positive energy in the future.

The door to Blumenauer’s new office will then be opened, and the Beaver State Democrat — back in his signature suit with bow tie and joined once again with his beloved bicycle — will stake his claim to the space, which will theoretically be cleared of any bad karma lingering from Traficant’s turbulent tenure.

Blumenauer’s aides have actually turned the cleansing ceremony into a house-warming party for their new abode and are encouraging all who attend to wear “toupees, leisure suits, prison and Trekkie garb” in honor of Traficant, according to an invitation to the event, which is scheduled for late this afternoon.

“We’re exorcising the bad and bringing back the good,” said Tom Markgraf, Blumenauer’s press secretary. “We’re making it a good Oregon delegation office once again.”

Traficant, for his part, continues to push an appeal of his case. In documents filed Friday with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Traficant claimed he was subjected to double jeopardy when he was tried in both federal court and before the House ethics committee on the same charges.

Traficant also alleges that the jury was improperly chosen for his criminal trial in Ohio last year, although he made the same argument before Judge Lesley Brooks Wells during the criminal proceedings and it was rejected.

And despite the fact that he is incarcerated, Traficant and his family are still under heavy pressure to pay the federal government nearly $250,000 in fines, penalties and back taxes he owes following his April conviction.

Congressional officials forced the Traficant family to return some furniture they wanted to auction in early December, claiming there was no record of the former lawmaker having paid for the items before removing them from Capitol Hill.

In addition, Traficant’s wife and daughter have been subpoenaed and asked to turn over any financial records they have as federal officials attempt to unravel a complex web of transactions by the ex-lawmaker.