Mark Critz — the aide to the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) who was picked as the Democratic candidate to replace his boss — attended a 2005 meeting of defense contractors and lobbyists and offered the Congressman's support for an earmark project that ended in the criminal convictions of three men last year.
According to documents obtained by Roll Call, Air Force lawyers discouraged military officials from attending the meeting, arguing it was an inappropriate mixture of lobbying and Congressional and contracting interests, though it is not clear that Critz knew about these reservations at the time.
But the meeting went forward, and with Murtha's support, the group launched an Air Force program that was funded entirely through earmarks.
Critz was unavailable to speak to Roll Call for this story, but his spokesman Shawn Piatek said in a written statement, "Some may say Mr. Murtha fought too aggressively to bring economic development and jobs to Western Pennsylvania. Mark disagrees, he will continue to fight for jobs and economic development in Congress. Families are really struggling right now and he's going to work hard to get folks back to work because that's exactly what Western Pennsylvania needs."
Murtha's office told Roll Call a year ago that Critz's role in the meeting was minor. Spokesman Matt Mazonkey told Roll Call at the time: "A field representative from our office was invited by a company in our district to attend a meeting with over 20 business and federal agency attendees, including the Defense Department and the U.S. Forest Service. He attended the meeting, much like several meetings our office gets invited to every week, and listened to the PowerPoint presentation."
The 2005 meeting, held at the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort south of Pittsburgh, in Murtha's Congressional district, was organized by Mark O'Hair, an Air Force program manager based in Florida; Richard Schaller, a Florida Defense contractor; and Richard Ianieri, the CEO of a Pennsylvania defense contractor called Coherent Systems International.
Documents obtained by Roll Call explained that the purpose of the meeting was to bring contractors, government officials, lobbyists and Members of Congress together to develop a plan to develop high-tech communications equipment for soldiers on the battlefield, with possible alternative uses such as communications by Forest Service fire-jumpers.
Several Members of Congress were invited to the meeting, but according to a copy of the minutes, Critz was the only Congressional representative in attendance.
The minutes indicate Critz "explained Congressman Murtha's support for rallying government agencies to this issue."
Critz left midway through the meeting, according to the minutes, but before departing, "Mark Critz explained that Congressman Murtha supports what was accomplished at this meeting and would like a follow on meeting scheduled. He said this group should continue to rally government agencies on this issue and can expect full support from Congressman Murtha."
Schaller's company at the time was represented by the PMA Group, the now-shuttered lobbying firm that was raided by the FBI as part of an investigation of improper campaign contributions.
Coherent was represented by KSA Consulting, the lobbying firm that employed Murtha's brother. Disclosure forms for that period list Kit Murtha as one of Coherent's lobbyists, along with Carmen Scialabba, Murtha's former appropriations staffer.
Murtha ultimately provided an $8.2 million earmark for Coherent as part of the Air Force program. Last year, Ianieri and O'Hair pleaded guilty to a scheme to skim money from that earmark, and Schaller was convicted by a jury.
O'Hair attended the meeting despite the misgivings of the Air Force general counsel.
Roll Call has obtained a September 2005 e-mail from the Air Force staff judge advocate to Schaller forwarding the Air Force general counsel's opinion that, "This is not the type of meeting we can officially support. Personal participation would also be problematic. The problems include: mixing legislative and executive functions, lobbying congressmen, preferential treatment of one contractor over others, the potential release of sensitive/valuable information to one contractor. We will recommend to [the director of Air Force Security Forces and Force Protection] that he decline to attend because this would generate more problems than it would solve."
There is no evidence Critz knew about this memo at the time of the meeting.
But it is clear that Critz was a point person for Murtha on earmarks.
The House ethics committee issued a report at the end of February concluding that neither Murtha nor other Members or staff swapped earmarks for campaign contributions from PMA and its clients. The report included interviews with Murtha and his senior staffer explaining the process for deciding which earmarks to support.
A summary of the interview with Murtha's appropriations staffer — who is not identified by name — said the staffer "speaks with Mark Chris [sic] in the district office when seeking input from the district."
The report indicated that Murtha's chief of staff "receives the [earmark] request after the District Director [Critz] receives a request in the field."