JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — A Pennsylvania defense contractor to whom Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., directed millions of dollars in congressional earmarks has been blocked from doing business with the Navy amid allegations of fraud.
Word of the suspension came during an annual defense contractor trade show in Johnstown, Pa., the heart of Murtha's congressional district. Seven of the world's largest defense contractors, who have been among Murtha's biggest campaign contributors over the years, are helping to bankroll this week's "Showcase for Commerce."
During a brief news conference Friday at the trade show, Murtha turned aside questions about the suspension of Kuchera Defense Systems Inc., a family-run business that has supported him with $60,000 in donations to his campaign and his political action committee since 2002.
Over the past two years, Murtha has secured $14.7 million in congressionally directed funds known as "earmarks" for Kuchera to perform work for the military.
Asked about Kuchera's troubles, Murtha said, "What's that got to do with me? What do you think, I'm supposed to oversee these companies? That's not my job. That's the Defense Department's job."
Murtha is chairman of one of the most powerful panels in Congress, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, where he has been a member for over two decades.
Defends congressional earmarking
In remarks to defense contractors before the news conference, Murtha defended the much-maligned practice of congressional earmarking, saying that the money he directs pays for road and sewer improvements and improving water quality in the western Pennsylvania region. Murtha said the annual trade show helps promote economic development there.
At the Pentagon, Navy spokesman Lt. Clay Doss said the Navy suspended Kuchera Defense Systems on April 23 for "alleged fraud, including multiple incidents of cost mischarging, defective pricing and ethical violations." Doss declined to elaborate.
Kuchera is one of two firms with longtime ties to Murtha that were raided by the FBI in recent months in a criminal investigation of campaign fundraising involving defense contractors.
In the last two years alone, Murtha has directed $78 million in earmarks to clients of a Washington-area lobbying firm, PMA, the second business that the FBI recently raided. A former staffer on Murtha's subcommittee, Paul Magliocchetti, left Capitol Hill to start the lobbying firm in 1989, the same year Murtha became chairman of the subcommittee.
From 2005 through 2007, more than one out of every five dollars Murtha collected in campaign contributions came from PMA lobbyists or their clients — over a million dollars in all, according to Federal Election Commission records.
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In a 15-month span ending March 31, employees of the seven defense contractors sponsoring the Johnstown show this week put over $200,000 into Murtha's campaign account. The seven are Lockheed Martin Corp., the Boeing Co., BAE Systems PLC, Northrop Grumman Corp., General Dynamics Corp., Raytheon Co. and DRS Technologies Inc.
Fundraiser scheduled next week
Next Wednesday, Murtha has scheduled a fundraiser in a Washington, D.C., town house next door to Democratic Party headquarters.
Murtha hasn't had a close re-election race in decades, routinely getting nearly 70 percent of the vote.
Last year, he stumbled and had to publicly apologize for saying his home base of western Pennsylvania is racist in talking about Barack Obama's prospects for winning the state, which Obama was able to do. A deluge of campaign contributions from defense contractors and congressional Democrats rescued Murtha in time for election day.
The "Showcase for Commerce" has helped cement a partnership of major defense contractors and Johnstown-area firms, including Kuchera.
For example, in 2007 Murtha announced that Kuchera Defense Systems had been awarded a $100 million, 10-year contract by Raytheon Missile Systems to build circuit boards for the U.S. Air Force.
On Thursday, Anne Marie Squeo, a spokeswoman for Raytheon, said the company is complying with federal acquisition regulations, which allow a suspended firm to complete work on an existing project but bar it from being awarded new government work or any expansions of existing projects.
The Navy has awarded Kuchera Defense Systems over $30 million in contracts since 2003, according to databases compiling government contract data. The Army has awarded nearly $15 million in contracts to Kuchera since 1995, and the Air Force nearly $5 million since 2005. The Air Force contracts are in addition to the subcontracting work Kuchera is doing for Raytheon.
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