Nation

. . . Or Youngstown Mob Mole?
Junkyard Dog?

Congresssman James Traficant of Youngstown, Ohio, who once fought off opposition efforts to have him declared insane, is in hot water again—this time over charges that he's mobbed up. Traficant, who says he expects to be indicted for political reasons, vows to fight it out with the Justice Department.

In December, the U.S. attorney's office for the Northern District of Ohio issued subpoenas to the House general counsel asking for phone, payroll, and rental records for Traficant's office dating back to 1985. This represents the latest phase in the Justice Department's fight against organized crime in Youngstown, long a mob stronghold.

So far the probe has resulted in several convictions, including one against Traficant's ex-district director, Charles O'Nesti, who came to Congress as a Traficant aide in 1985. O'Nesti pled guilty in 1998 to perjury and racketeering charges. Traficant has denied any wrongdoing, or knowledge of wrongdoing by O'Nesti.

As sheriff of Mahoning County, Traficant was indicted for taking bribes from mob bosses. Defending himself at trial, he explained that he had accepted the money only as part of a sting operation he was conducting against organized crime. He was acquitted.

In Washington, Traficant goes on almost daily rampages in the House, lambasting the Justice Department and the IRS. He's always enjoyed strong support, in 1996 receiving the most votes of any House candidate in the nation. But this year he faces strong opposition back in Youngstown, both within the Democratic Party and from the Republicans.

"I have done nothing wrong," says Traficant defiantly. Adds Paul Marcone, his chief of staff, "He's going to fight like a junkyard dog in the midst of a hurricane."

Reader Beware
Breast Cancer Alert

The National Women's Health Network is asking the Food and Drug Administration to pull an ad for Nolvadex—manufactured by Zeneca Pharmaceuticals—which, the group says, makes false claims. The ad, which has appeared in national media, states: "In a landmark study of women 35 and older at high risk for breast cancer, women who took Nolvadex [a trade name for tamoxifen citrate] had 44 percent fewer breast cancers than women taking sugar pills."

"The ad is misleading because of the shifting use of absolute and relative risk numbers," insisted the Network in a letter to the FDA. "By juxtaposing text reading 'women who took Nolvadex had 44 percent fewer breast cancers than women taking sugar pills' with text asserting that health-threatening side effects 'occurred in less than 1 percent of women,' Zeneca is deliberately creating an inaccurate impression of the risk-benefit ratio of this drug. The average consumer reading this text would understand that she has a 44 percent chance of benefiting from taking tamoxifen and less than 1 percent chance of experiencing the associated risks."

In a related development, women with family histories of breast cancer will get a measure of protection if Rochester representative Louise Slaughter's Genetic Non-Discrimination in Health Insurance and Employment Act passes Congress. The act would block health insurers from denying coverage on the basis of genetic information.

Additional reporting: Kate Cortesi

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