Friday, April 25, 2003
The retired contractor posed for photos with Arafat in the Gaza Strip.
& lt;a href=mailto:email@example.com & gt;By PATRICIA MEADE & lt;/a & gt;
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
CLEVELAND -- The long-lost 1993 invoice for still unpaid carpentry work done at former U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr.'s horse farm was found on a computer disc and examined by an expert.
The expert, Damon S. Hacker, testified Thursday that the invoice was genuine, but he wasn't asked to determine if it was ever been printed out. Hacker's comments were made in U.S. District Court at the bribery-perjury trial of Bernard J. Bucheit, who is accused of not collecting $30,000 from Traficant for carpentry and electrical work in return for official acts.
Bucheit, 70, is also charged with lying to a grand jury about having a quid pro quo arrangement with the congressman. In the 1990s, Traficant was instrumental in helping Bucheit International Ltd. resolve disputes the construction company had in Saudi Arabia and then in the Gaza Strip.
Trial is in recess today and Monday. It resumes Tuesday morning for the lawyers only and Tuesday afternoon with closing arguments to the jury.
Bucheit's daughter, Leisel Bucheit of Virginia, testified Thursday that she created the Traficant invoice, for $27,217, on her computer Oct. 20, 1993. The invoice was based on carpenter David M. Manevich's work from April to October 1993.
She said it was the first time she'd created an invoice.
The bill, she said, was then sent to the Traficant horse farm in Greenford on Bucheit letterhead stationery at her father's request. She left her father's company in 1996 and, by then, the bill had not been paid.
She acknowledged writing checks totaling $3,990 to Aey Electric for work an electrician had done at the farm that summer and fall of 1993, but neglected to send Traficant a bill for that amount.
The carpentry invoice was not available when Leisel Bucheit testified at the grand jury investigating Traficant in August 2000, or at his racketeering trial a year ago. The ex-congressman is in prison, serving eight years.
Leisel Bucheit explained that she gave her boyfriend the computer when she got a new one. He died of a brain tumor Dec. 29, 2000.
Retrieved hard drive
She recently retrieved the old computer hard drive, thinking the invoice might still be on it. The hard drive was turned over to Hacker and the FBI for a forensics examination and, later, the back-up disc was found and examined.
Hacker, of SS & amp;G Technical Consulting, was hired by Bernard Bucheit's Cleveland lawyer, Roger M. Synenberg, and accepted by the government as an expert witness.
Hacker said he couldn't find the invoice on the hard drive but did find it on another disc.
He told the jury that the invoice was created on or about Oct. 20, 1993.
He said he didn't detect anything fraudulent about the document and, normally, there would be indicators.
Under cross-examination, Hacker was asked if it was possible to tell if the document had been printed. He said it was possible but he hadn't been asked to do that.
Leisel Bucheit explained to the jury that the Traficant farmwork was irrelevant, extremely insignificant, when compared to other matters in her life. She said she did not follow up to see if the bill was paid and never sent another invoice.
The government found three bills ($1,767 total) the carpenter had submitted that were not included in the original Traficant invoice. Leisel Bucheit said the omission wasn't done intentionally, it was just an oversight on her part.
The jury, during Leisel Bucheit's testimony, got a fuller picture of the some of the problems Bucheit International Ltd. had overseas.
She was not involved when, in December 1992, the Saudis and her father reached an undisclosed settlement over $11.5 million owed for a shopping center built in Riyadh. She was, however, knowledgeable about problems with the Bucheit Gaza Strip precast cement factory in the mid- to late 1990s.
She said the Saudi settlement allowed her father to buy a 10-story fixer-upper building on H Street in Washington, D.C., for $1.1 million and aided in the investment of $4.4 million for the cement factory. The H Street building eventually had to be sold to pay off a $1.1 million loan Bucheit International got from the Overseas Private Investment Corp., which lends money to businesses in politically unstable areas, she said.
The jury saw photos taken at the Gaza Strip factory (the first American company in the region), equipment being shipped to it from Israel and one taken at a conference that featured Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Bernard Bucheit.
The jury also saw a photo of a crane, which Leisel Bucheit said the Palestinian Authority took, used and damaged.
The factory had been encouraged to open as part of Builders for Peace, a nonprofit group set up under the auspices of then-Vice President Al Gore.
After the Gaza-Jericho agreement was signed in May 1994, the factory opened in 1995.
The Bucheit family saw great opportunities to build 60 to 80 much-needed schools, Leisel Bucheit told the jury. After the Nov. 4, 1995, assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, things turned bleak, she said, with border closings, supply problems and terrorist activity.
The recent TV images of looters in Iraq reminded her of the unsettled atmosphere of Gaza.
Bucheit money from OPIC, some $200,000 wire-transferred to Cairo Amman Bank, "disappeared," as did other funds that had been in the account, she said. OPIC, Builders for Peace, and the U.S. State Department were notified.
Stolen equipment, stolen money and unpaid contracts made it look bad for anyone who wanted to do business in the region but the U.S. government was not helpful. "They took the word of the people in Gaza," Leisel Bucheit told the jury.
She said the Gaza Strip precast cement plant closed in March 1996.
Paul P. Marcone of Virginia, former Traficant chief of staff, testified this week that the congressman was able to get language into an Omnibus bill to protect Bucheit's investment in Gaza. The language was to force the state department to "get tough" with the Palestinian Authority to make good on the Bucheit investment or face withholding of U.S. financial aid, Marcone said.
Bucheit and the Palestinian Authority agreed to a settlement in March 2000, Marcone said. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
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