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DOJ Says Murtha Earmark Money Was Illicitly Distributed

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Updated 3:56 p.m.

A contracting firm that had hired the brother of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) as its lobbyist took the proceeds from a Murtha-provided, $8.2 million Air Force earmark and distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to other companies represented by the Congressman’s brother for items that were not part of the project, the Justice Department charged Thursday.

The charges make no indication that the Congressman had any involvement or knowledge of the transactions.

Roll Call reported in June that Murtha used a 2005 tsunami relief bill to take away $8.2 million of government funding from a company called AEPTEC Microsystems that had severed ties with his brother’s lobbying firm and moved that money to Coherent Systems International, which had hired his brother’s firm. The lobbying firm, Rockville, Md.-based KSA Consulting, had hired Kit Murtha and Carmen Scialabba, a former Appropriations Committee staffer for Congressman.

Charging documents filed Thursday by the Justice Department in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida allege that Richard Ianieri, CEO of Coherent, paid a total of $1.8 million to other firms for items that were not part of the “Ground Mobile Gateway” project that Murtha’s earmark had funded. Ianieri is charged with one count of presenting false purchase orders to the government.

The Ground Mobile Gateway project was a mobile communications platform that could help airmen in the field better target airstrikes.

According to the Justice Department, Coherent paid $300,000 to Gensym — a Massachusetts-based company that opened an office in Murtha’s district and hired KSA as its lobbyist — for software that Coherent never used. The charges also allege that Coherent paid $275,000 to VidiaFusion, a KSA client in Florida, for software that was never used.

The Justice Department notes that both companies provided the software for which they were paid, and neither company is charged with wrongdoing.

Earlier this week, Ianieri was charged in Pennsylvania with soliciting $200,000 in kickbacks in January 2006 from a defense contractor identified only as “K.”

In Thursday’s filing, the government alleges that in December 2005, Coherent paid the Pennsylvania defense contractor Kuchera Industries $650,000 for “prototype cards” that were not part of the Ground Mobile Gateway project.

Kuchera is owned by Bill Kuchera, a friend and longtime supporter of Congressman Murtha. Coherent and Kuchera had co-located some of their operations in Pennsylvania, and Murtha had praised their close cooperation.

The government also alleges that Coherent paid $200,000 to a company called Schaller Engineering for “target tags” that were never delivered.

Richard Schaller has been charged separately with distributing the proceeds of that payment to himself and his business partners, including Mark O’Hair, the Air Force official who approved the original payment to Coherent. O’Hair has also been charged. Attorneys for O’Hair and Schaller have denied the charges, and their supporters argue that the men were attempting to build a revolutionary product for the Defense Department.

A hearing in Ianieri’s case has been scheduled for July 14 in the federal court in Pensacola, Fla., and he is expected to plead guilty to the charges.

KSA President Ken Stalder declined to comment for this article.

Murtha spokesman Matt Mazonkey called the charges disturbing and said that “if true, then the individuals and companies in question should be held accountable under the law.”

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