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Florida Case Involves Firms Close to Murtha

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A federal court in Florida is scheduled to begin a criminal trial next month featuring an intriguing cast of characters, with multiple links to the PMA Group and other entities in the orbit of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) that are under investigation by the FBI. Neither Murtha nor PMA is mentioned in the Florida case.

While the case is being litigated in Florida, key elements of the government’s allegations refer to contracts provided to companies with long-standing ties to Murtha.

The indictment — which was unsealed by a federal judge in February — alleges a complicated scheme in which a former Defense Department employee who managed contracts was also partners with and being paid by contractors that he was overseeing and hiring for the Air Force.

The indictment in the case alleges that an Air Force employee, Mark O’Hair, steered contracts to his business partners, Richard Schaller and Theodore Sumrall, and then split the proceeds of those contracts with the men.

Lawyers for the men could not be reached or would not comment on the case, but their allies say the charges are bogus and may even be retribution by the government for O’Hair’s innovative attempt to expand the Air Force research program that he worked on, called the “Battlefield Airman.”

Schaller and Sumrall were partners in a Florida company called Schaller Engineering, which filed incorporation papers in January 2005 and hired the PMA Group as its lobbying firm a month later.

The PMA Group is a now-defunct lobbying firm that was raided by the FBI last fall as part of an investigation that reportedly involves questions about the company’s campaign contributions.

From June 2004 to September 2006, Schaller Engineering received about $8 million worth of contracts from the Air Force Research Laboratory at Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base. O’Hair, an Air Force program manager, awarded those contracts, but the government alleges that he was also part owner of Schaller Engineering and received payments from the company.

The government alleges that while he worked for the Air Force, O’Hair was also employed by a Colorado company called Pathfinder Technology, a subcontractor to Schaller Engineering that was also a PMA client.

According to the indictment, O’Hair presented Pathfinder with a business development plan in September 2005 in which O’Hair indicated Pathfinder could secure future subcontracting work from Schaller Engineering and American Electric Vehicles under the Battlefield Airman program. Pathfinder paid O’Hair $25,000 for preparing the plan.

A month later, American Electric Vehicles was incorporated in Windber, Pa., which is in Murtha’s Congressional district. The company was a partnership of three people — Richard Schaller, Daniel Rivers and Rick Ianieri. Rivers ran Colorado Power Systems, a company that developed battery packs for electric vehicles; Ianieri was the CEO of Coherent Systems, a company that had received millions of dollars in earmarks from Murtha over the years.

Coherent Systems also had a close partnership with Windber-based Kuchera Defense Systems. In a 2006 press release, Murtha said the two firms “working virtually as one company ... have garnered more than $30 million in 14 prime contracts for high tech tools for warfighters.” Federal agents raided Kuchera in January, though it is not clear what they are investigating.

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