Six Degrees of Alan Mollohan

Posted January 28, 2009 at 6:33pm

On March 22, 2004, Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) collected just over $300,000 for his re-election campaign, more than half the total that he spent for the two-year election cycle.

Of the donations he collected that day, at least $100,000 came from individuals tied to companies that have addresses in the office park built around the Alan B. Mollohan Innovation Center and operated by the West Virginia High Technology Cooperative, a foundation that Mollohan helped create.

The list of tenants in the office park reads like a who’s who of Mollohan campaign donors. But the connections between Mollohan and the building named after him don’t end there.

The office park is at the center of a web of relationships among a dozen or so individuals and companies that support Mollohan’s campaigns, his local booster organizations and the Robert H. Mollohan Family Charitable Foundation Inc.

Mollohan has provided many of these same companies with millions of dollars of federal earmarks, and announced millions more in grants to these companies from government agencies and larger federal contractors.

And the individuals who lead these companies also have deeply intertwined business relationships — many have overlapping memberships on the boards of organizations in the office park and of private for-profit companies.

Many of the organizations on the campus share the same lobbyist, Randall West of Robison International Inc., who has acknowledged that he has lobbied Mollohan, and who has a charity in his name that is operated by the Mollohan foundation.

West told Roll Call that there is nothing inappropriate in any of his lobbying relationships and he suggested that the newspaper is misinterpreting innocent relationships.

The Mollohan building, which opened in 1996, is the headquarters of the WVHTC and the centerpiece of the Interstate 79 Technology Park. A bronze bust of Mollohan stands in the lobby of the building.

Mollohan created the foundation and has provided more than $30 million in earmarks for it.

In 2000, Mollohan convened a task force to review the region’s high-tech needs and to recommend reforms in the WVHTC structure. One of the reforms was the hiring of Jim Estep as president and chief executive officer.

Estep is also an officer in a land development company and an array of other business ventures, both nonprofit and for-profit. One of the largest of these was the Institute for Scientific Research, which “was established at Mollohan’s direction,” according to his House Web site. The institute received millions of dollars in government research grants, including a NASA grant to study the possibility of building an elevator to space. In 2006, the institute completed construction of a giant, $130 million building next to the technology park, widely reported to have been built with $102 million in federal money earmarked by Mollohan.

But ISR scaled back operations that year and merged into the WVHTC, and local officials said the massive building is still more than half empty.

Roll Call reported in 2006 that the foundation and several government contractors paid for a 2004 trip that Mollohan, his wife and two top aides took to Spain.

The magazine West Virginia Executive published a story about Estep in December 2005 explaining that the WVHTC was beginning to establish “spin-off organizations.”

“One of the first is a project started in Spain, a biotechnology company called Biopharmance, Inc., the foundation of which was laid when Congressman Mollohan visited the country two years ago,” the magazine reported.

According to West Virginia corporate records, Biopharmance was a for-profit venture with Estep as president and one of the other organizers of Mollohan’s trip as treasurer. WVHTC tax records list the company as a subsidiary.

Estep has declined to respond to more than a half-dozen phone calls and e-mails from Roll Call since late last year, and did not respond to Roll Call’s request for a tour of the I-79 technology park.

According to a tenant list, many of the residents of the WVHTC office park and the Mollohan Innovation Center have deep ties to the Congressman, including:

Information Manufacturing Corp.

West Virginia corporate records list an entity called Mineral Holding Co. as the owner of IMC; the owners of Mineral Holding Co. were Jim Cava and Robert Hytner. They sold IMC in 2007 to National Interest Security Co. Hytner and Cava are both listed as board members on the NISC Web site, but a person answering the telephone there said neither is affiliated with the company any longer.

Cava and Hytner family members and IMC employees contributed more than $140,000 to Mollohan’s campaign and political action committee since 1998. The company has landed millions in federal contracts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other federal agencies. Mollohan chairs the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the NOAA’s budget.

IMC donated $10,000 to the Mollohan Family Foundation in 2006, according to the foundation’s tax records — the only year for which detailed records are available — and the foundation has placed interns in IMC’s offices.

IMC’s lobbyist is Robison International, and in 2008, Hytner and Cava registered in West Virginia a Delaware-based private company called Patriots III with Robison President West.

In a letter to Roll Call, West said the company is “an LLC that organized to explore plastics recycling opportunities” with “no plus ups, adds or government funds of any kind.”

The company’s address is listed as 117 E. Main St. in Bridgeport, W.Va. Cava also has a handful of other businesses registered at this address, including the accounting firm of Cava & Banko, and the sign outside identifies the property as “The Cava Building.” But a person answering the phone there said Cava does not work out of that office, and could not provide a phone number at which to reach him.

Galaxy Global Corp.

The small software and information technology company represents some of the richest patterns of mutual aid among Mollohan’s inner circle. The company was established in 1989 by Zeny Cunanan, and in 1991 she was named president of the WVHTC. Her official bio indicates that she served as president and board member of the consortium between 1991 and 1995. In 2000, she served on Mollohan’s task force for the overhaul of the foundation.

Cunanan family members have contributed just under $50,000 to Mollohan’s campaign and PAC since 1998, according to Federal Election Commission records, and the company has received $3 million in contracts from NASA since 2000 through programs that Mollohan has supported, generally with limited or no competition, according to FedSpending.org. In 2003, Cunanan’s son Rolando founded a company called Integrated Software Metrics Inc., which also had an office in the Mollohan building and received a portion of a Mollohan earmark in 2004.

The Mollohan family foundation provides a scholarship named for another of Cunanan’s sons, and Galaxy Global provides internships through the foundation.

Cunanan is also listed in West Virginia corporate records as the original vice president of a nonprofit called the Office of Law Enforcement Technology Commercialization, which lists James Estep as its president. According to its 2006 and 2007 tax returns, the organization’s only income was about $2.8 million in government grants, nearly all of which was spent to hire a single contractor — Estep’s WVHTC.

Azimuth Inc.

In the late 1980s, the Herndon, Va.-based contracting firm Electronic Warfare Associates Inc. joined the Defense Department’s mentoring program, taking on a start-up West Virginia company called Azimuth Inc. Azimuth president Craig Hartzell told a local newspaper in 1998 that the firm’s sales had risen from less than $1 million in 1993 to $8.5 million in 1997 and that half of the company’s work came from EWA. In several news stories on the company’s Web site, Hartzell credits Mollohan — along with Sen. Robert Byrd (D) and former Gov. Cecil Underwood (R) — for helping to get the company started.

“We had a lot of help from a lot of people,” Hartzell told the Daily Mail newspaper in Charleston, W.Va. “We had political pats on the back and encouragement from Mollohan, Sen. Byrd, Underwood. They really helped, introducing us to others.”

In that same story, Hartzell notes that his accounting firm, Toothman Rice, extended the firm credit in its early days. Toothman Rice provides bookkeeping services for several Mollohan-related organizations, including the family foundation and WVHTC, and has an office in the Mollohan Innovation Center.

According to the Dominion Post newspaper in Morgantown, W.Va., Mollohan “secured $3.75 million in the 2004 and 2005 Defense Department spending bills” to design and build a robot to disarm roadside bombs. Azimuth and the WVHTC were two of the partners who built the devices, and the Post reported that WVHTC would produce 2,500 of them as part of a $9.6 million contract between the Navy and Innovative Response Technologies Inc., a WVHTC subsidiary. Innovative Response Technologies is registered with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office as a for-profit corporation with Jim Estep as its president.

Last year, Azimuth received a $2.4 million earmark from Mollohan to provide electronics for a Navy project, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Hartzell family members and Azimuth employees have given Mollohan just more than $54,000 in campaign contributions since 1998.

Azimuth has been described as a “founding member” of the WVHTC, and Hartzell was a member of the 2000 task force that Mollohan chartered to overhaul the organization.

In 2006, Azimuth donated $10,000 to the Mollohan Family Charitable Foundation, and Azimuth participates in the foundation’s internship program.

In 2005, the U.S. Small Business Administration named Mollohan “West Virginia’s Veteran Small Business Champion” on the nomination of Hartzell.

Azimuth’s lobbying firm is Robison International.

Electronic Warfare Associates Inc.

A 2003 article in the WVHTC magazine Journal of Innovation reported that in the late 1980s, “Congressman Alan B. Mollohan was looking for large, established organizations to locate in West Virginia and help nurture and grow native businesses. Electronic Warfare Associates, an electronics and software engineering company based in Virginia, was among the first organizations to accept the Congressman’s offer and opened a branch office in Fairmont.”

EWA President and CEO Carl Guerreri and EWA employees have donated at least $118,000 to Mollohan’s campaign and PAC since 1998. Guerreri family members — including Bart Guerreri, whose Massachusetts-based DSD Laboratories Inc. has also opened an office in Fairmont — have donated about $43,000 during that time.

In March 2007, Mollohan requested $5 million for a Special Operations Forces radio receiver to be built by EWA Government Systems Inc. (Congress ultimately approved $4 million, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.)

A year later, Mollohan requested funding for the EWA to provide training systems to the military.

Mollohan’s request letters for both of these earmarks provide the EWA’s address as the Mollohan Innovation Center; last September Mollohan joined Carl Guerreri for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the EWA’s new offices in a building on the same campus. Signage around the building in December indicated that it was being built in part by the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, an agency under the jurisdiction of Mollohan’s subcommittee.

The EWA contributed $25,000 to the Mollohan foundation in 2006, and the company provides internships for students through the foundation. The Mollohan foundation also has a scholarship named after John Spears, the former director of DSD Laboratories and member of a WVHTC advisory board.

Frank Blake, a vice president at the EWA, chaired Mollohan’s task force for reorganizing the high-tech foundation in 2000 and served as a board member for the Institute for Scientific Research, where Carl Guerreri was listed as a director.

Bart Guerreri declined to speak with Roll Call, but Carl Guerreri said there is nothing untoward about the EWA’s long affiliation with West Virginia. “We were in West Virginia before I even knew Mr. Mollohan,” Guerreri said, explaining that he opened an office there in the 1980s to take advantage of the fact that West Virginia University was teaching students an obscure computer language that the Defense Department used.

“We’ve contributed to Mr. Mollohan and we’ve benefitted from earmarks, but there is no plan involved there,” Guerreri said. “We contribute to a lot of people, many people we don’t get earmarks from, and it’s mainly because we believe they represent our views on issues.”

Guerreri also said his company’s mentorship of Azimuth and donations to the Mollohan foundation are simply extensions of a broad company culture of being involved in the communities where the EWA has offices and providing a helping hand. He said the company has mentorships with several other small businesses around the country and has a long list of charitable commitments.

Guerreri also said that before the high-tech center and office park were established, there was no top-quality office space available in Fairmont. His company’s first office in the area was a converted garage, he said. After the buildings were built, they were a natural draw for the EWA and other companies looking to do business in the area.

DN American/Innovative Management and Technology Services

Nash Patel came to West Virginia in the late 1980s to join his family’s hotel business, he told the Charleston State Journal in 1998, but he “had the opportunity to go see Sen. Byrd and Congressman Mollohan talk about diversifying the state’s economy and building a technology center and to me, that seemed the golden opportunity to come in on ground zero and be a part of building something.”

Patel created a company called DN American, which produces software and IT products for federal government customers, aided by earmarks from Mollohan.

Patel was a founding member of the WVHTC, and was named to Mollohan’s 2000 task force to review its operations. In 2005, he sold the company to Innovative Management and Technology Services, a company owned by his brother Chirag Patel, who still has an office in the Mollohan Innovation Center. Employees of the two companies have provided at least $33,000 to Mollohan’s campaigns and PAC since 1998.

Asked by Roll Call about whether donations made by employees had any connection to earmarks the company received, Chirag Patel said, “I’m not aware of any of those activities. … I’d rather call you back because this is very sensitive information.” He did not call back.

Mollohan’s office did not answer repeated requests for comment on this story.

There can be an element of “Six Degrees of Alan Mollohan” in tracking the connections between the Congressman’s earmarks and his small circle of friends.

For example: In March 2007, Mollohan wrote an earmark request letter seeking $4 million for West Virginia pallet manufacturer Greenpak to provide “logistics support capabilities” to the Navy. Greenpak is based in Parkersburg, on the far western edge of Mollohan’s district, and company employees do not appear to have ever donated to Mollohan’s campaigns.

But Greenpak has been a big supporter of events for wounded veterans through the Armed Forces Foundation, which lists West and IMC’s Hytner as board members. Greenpak has on several occasions provided transportation and other assistance to the foundation for hunting events designed specifically for disabled veterans. The company has also hired Robison as its lobbyist.

According to press releases and news accounts, the lead organizer of the disabled-veteran hunting events sponsored by Greenpak was Lt. Col. Lew Deal, a retired Marine, who testified in July before a House Natural Resources subcommittee about the importance of providing adaptive equipment such as wheelchair-accessible hunting blinds to the military for wounded veterans. Deal is involved with several veterans organizations and is listed as national programs director of Friends of American Heroes, a group that provides outdoor recreational opportunities for disabled vets, and as an outdoor sports volunteer for the Armed Forces Foundation.

Deal’s other title is director of outdoor programs and support services for Robison International. He is listed as a lobbyist on Robison’s 2007 registration form for American Growler, a company that manufactures wheelchair-accessible blinds.

A Web site that chronicles veterans’ hunting events includes photos of West Virginia hunts in November 2005 and November 2006, indicating that Mollohan and West attended both hunts. The 2005 page includes the following acknowledgement: “A tremendous thank you to everyone that played a part in this great hunt and a special thanks to Dale McBride and General Randy West for the use of Dale’s farm and all of the organization that went into this great hunt.”

McBride is a lifelong friend of Mollohan’s, a board member of the Mollohan Family Foundation and the president of FMW Composite Systems, a lobbying client of Robison International. McBride has said that he got the idea for one of his companies’ military contracts — a rubber bladder fuel-storage system — from a luncheon with then-Marine Col. Randy West.

McBride is listed as an officer in a handful of West Virginia companies, including M&M Partners, a partnership with Mollohan through which the two bought a 297-acre West Virginia farm in 2005.

The Mollohan foundation announced in its winter 2006 newsletter that it is accepting donations for “the General Randall Lee West and Robin Lane West Emergency Fund for Severely Wounded West Virginia Veterans.” The fund appears to be a project of the Mollohan foundation — neither the state of West Virginia nor the Internal Revenue Service has any record of an independent nonprofit organization by that name.

In March 2007, West and McBride registered a for-profit LLC in West Virginia called Patriot II Partners. In his letter to Roll Call, West said the company was established “to purchase a vacant building in a stalled industrial park” in Preston County, W.Va., which is also in Mollohan’s district. “The building was purchased with personal funds/financing and there were no plus ups, adds or government funds of any kind involved in that purchase,” West wrote.

West wrote that he is aware of representing only one company with an office in the Mollohan building, and said he assumed that the building was named for the Congressman because “the people that work there … think of him as an honorable and honest man who does his best to help keep our country strong and free and to represent the people of the First District of WV. From what I know of him, I would echo their thoughts.”

In a conversation about another story last fall, West told Roll Call that he had lobbied Mollohan on behalf of West Virginia clients.

“If you are asking whether or not we have ever lobbied for people with Mr. Mollohan — yes,” West said at the time. “We have West Virginia clients and we have approached at least two of the West Virginia Representatives and West Virginia Senators.” But West said there was no connection between the company’s lobbying activities and his relationship with Mollohan.

“I don’t believe that anything immoral, illegal or unethical has been done by anybody at Robison,” he said.

In his letter, West added that “the media has the plus up story all wrong … [and] the way you write about it hurts good people trying to do good things that our nation really needs!”