James Traficant claims a Nigerian immigrant was intimidated by Federal agents into testifying against him in a bribery case that saw the Ohio Democrat thrown out of Congress and spend 7 years in federal prison.
Traficant claims he met the man, Nnamdi J. Okolo, while at the federal prison in Allenwood, Pennsylvania.
“The government pressured me to lie against you,” Okolo reportedly told Traficant. “They wanted me to lie against [Richard] Detore to pressure Detore [to give false testimony] against you.”
Richard Detore provided Traficant with credit card security for a car rental in 1999, when the former congressman’s car was being repaired. Detore was also associated with USAG, an aeronautics company Traficant hoped would provide jobs for people in his district.
Okolo, a resident alien and part owner of the car rental, handled the initial transaction, with the understanding that even though Detore’s card was being used to secure the vehicle, Traficant would be paying when he returned the car.
Unfortunately, when Traficant returned the car, another employer charged Detore’s card, even though it was clearly marked “for security purposes (non payment) only” from the beginning. Okolo reprimanded the employee for the error.
Okolo was later prosecuted for bank fraud relating to a number of problematic transactions involving the affairs of his business partnership with several others. He took a plea deal and began serving his sentence in Allenwood.
Federal agents contacted Okolo in July 2001 after learning of his past transaction with Traficant. With an officer from the Federal Buerau of prisons and his lawyer and present, the agents told Okolo that if he testified in court that the mistaken car rental payment was actually a bribe, his troubles would “go away.”
Okolo then asked what would happen to Detore. The agents told him that Detore would be charged with a crime involving his dealings with Traficant and that the government would then ask Detore to testify against Traficant.
Okolo turned down the deal and instead of his problems going away, they got worse. He was indicted on a second bank fraud charge after his wife and former business associates were pressured to testify against him.
After Traficant was sent to Allenwood in Fall 2002, Okolo met the former congressman and told him what happened. Shortly after that, Okolo was given “diesel therapy,” a practice of being constantly moved around the US prison system used to disorient and break select inmates. According to an affidavit filed with the Nigerian government, Okolo claimed he was moved to 10 or 11 different prison facilities, including a stint on death row in Baltimore, for about a year.
Okolo was deported back to Nigeria in March 2005 before his prison sentence ended. As he said in his affidavit, “If I had lied, like so many others in Congressman Traficant’s case, I would still be in the United States, with no legal or criminal or IRS problems. I want to be heard, and America should insist that I be allowed to return to my family.”
Traficant also claims Federal agents threatened to deport Okolo’s 70-year-old parents if he did not recant the things he said in the affidavit.
Richard Detore also refused to testify against Traficant. “I didn’t bribe Traficant nor did I try to bribe him nor do I have any knowledge of any effort by anybody else to bribe Traficant,” he told the US Justice Department. “I haven’t committed a crime and I don’t know of any crimes committed by Jim Traficant and I’m not going to testify and say that Traficant committed a crime.”
Detore was later indicted for conspiring to bribe Traficant.
Lawyers for Detore advised him to not testify at Traficant’s trial due to a separate trial in another case Detore was facing at the time. Detore later charged his attorneys had betrayed him and sought another legal counsel.
Detore later testified at the House Ethics Committee hearings on whether Traficant should be removed from Congress following a possible conviction. Risking his own legal status with his testimony, Detore said, “The only people who are guilty of anything here are the FBI and the Justice Department attorneys who told me that if I didn’t lie against Traficant that I would be indicted and possibly be convicted and sent to jail.”
The clarity of the testimony and the facts of the case did not stop the expulsion of Traficant from congress, although Detore was unanimously acquitted in his own trial.
“What has happened to America?,” Traficant concludes. “The government is starting to pressure sons against fathers, mothers to testify against their sons. Don’t we have enough history to recognize there was another nation that did that and they killed many innocent people, didn’t they? I think it’s time we send a message.”