Ex-Air Force Official Gets Six Months in Case Involving Murtha Earmark

Posted October 13, 2009 at 4:42pm

Two men were sentenced to federal prison Tuesday for their roles in skimming money from a Defense Department project that received an $8.2 million earmark from Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.).A federal judge in Florida issued a six-month sentence to former Air Force official Mark O’Hair and an 18-month sentence to defense contractor Richard Schaller for steering contracts to a company that they owned together. Schaller was also found guilty of obstruction of justice for destroying corporate records.According to the indictment, issued under seal in August 2008 and unsealed in February, at the same time that O’Hair managed military contracts, he was also a business partner with Schaller and a third person, Theodore Sumrall. O’Hair allegedly directed contracts to the two men, and the trio split the proceeds of those contracts. Sumrall pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation.O’Hair pleaded guilty July 20 to skimming money from an earmark that was provided to a Pennsylvania defense contractor by Murtha. Murtha has not been accused of any wrongdoing in the case nor does his name appear in court documents.According to his plea agreement, O’Hair was the Air Force official responsible for evaluating contract proposals for a program focused on battlefield communication technology.The plea agreement notes that in May 2005, Congress appropriated an $8.2 million earmark for the Mobile Common Data Link Gateway, which had been lobbied for by the Pennsylvania-based Coherent Systems International Inc. Roll Call has reported that at the time, Coherent was a client of the lobbying firm that employed Murtha’s brother, and Murtha provided the $8.2 million earmark by taking the money from a project that he had previously funded for a former client of his brother’s firm.O’Hair approved various purchased orders from Coherent for items that were not part of the Gateway project, including $200,000 to Schaller Engineering for items that were never provided.Richard Ianieri, the former CEO of Coherent, pleaded guilty July 14 to charges linked to the same scheme. He has also pleaded guilty in a Pennsylvania court to taking kickbacks from a subcontractor referred to as “K— for favorable treatment under government contracts.Coherent worked closely with Kuchera Defense Systems, a Pennsylvania defense contractor with close ties to Murtha, and shared a facility with the company. Kuchera was raided by the FBI earlier this year, but Bill Kuchera, the company’s owner, has not been charged with any crime.