updated 1/7/2010 3:22:20 PM ET 2010-01-07T20:22:20

A defense contractor with ties to Rep. John Murtha has been suspended again from bidding on government contracts, this time for paying more than $200,000 in kickbacks to another contractor turned government witness.

Kuchera Defense Systems Inc., of Windber, was suspended Dec. 22 for allegedly paying off Richard Ianieri. Ianieri is awaiting sentencing Feb. 23 in U.S. District Court in Pensacola, Fla. after pleading guilty in July to fraud stemming from a research contract at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

Kuchera's attorney, Dennis McGlynn, said Kuchera is fighting the suspension and that it is based on information the Navy had in August — when the Navy previously took Kuchera off the Excluded Parties List System, a black book of contractors suspended from government work.

Kuchera was first suspended in April for overcharging the Navy and other ethical violations, but McGlynn said the company resolved those problems to the Navy's satisfaction.

Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Victor Chen confirmed that, but said the new suspension is based on separate circumstances: kickbacks Kuchera paid to Coherent Systems International, a company co-founded by Ianieri.

Kuchera Defense Systems and Coherent have been awarded over $50 million apiece in defense work in this decade, according to http://www.fedspending.org, a Web site on federal contracting.

‘Earmark pressure’
In July, Ianieri testified about getting the kickbacks to steer $650,000 worth of work to Kuchera from an $8.2 million congressional earmark. Ianieri testified "there was political and earmark pressure" to shift the money — though he didn't say who applied such pressure.

Ianieri's firm had gotten the earmark after hiring a lobbying firm that employed Murtha's brother. The Pennsylvania Democrat's office refuses to say whether the congressman sponsored the earmark.

The criminal charges against Ianieri were first filed in Pittsburgh, where the U.S. Attorney's Office has acknowledged an investigation stemming from a January raid of Kuchera's offices.

Spokeswoman Margaret Philbin said Thursday that federal prosecutors in Pittsburgh have no comment on that investigation or the latest suspension.

A spokesman for Murtha also declined to comment.

"This is an issue between Kuchera Defense and the U.S. Navy. It does not involve our office," Murtha spokesman Matthew Mazonkey said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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