Is the noose tightening around John Murtha?
For months now, the Pennsylvania Democratic power-broker’s name has been popping up in connection to a wide-ranging FBI investigation of defense contractors and lobbyists to whom he has ties. And yesterday brought more bad news…Mark O’Hair, a former Air Force employee pleaded guilty (sub. req.) Monday in connection to getting a kickback from a defense contract that Murtha, who chairs the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee, had provided.
Roll Call reports:
According to the plea agreement, filed in a federal court in Florida, in May 2005, “Congress passed a tsunami relief act which included within the provisions of the act an $8.2 million earmark for the development of the ‘Mobile Common Data Link Gateway.’ Coherent Systems International, Inc. (CSI) had lobbied for this earmark appropriation.”
Roll Call reported in June that Coherent was represented by KSA Consulting, the lobbying firm that employed Murtha’s brother, Kit, and that the Congressman had provided this earmark to Coherent by eliminating the same sum from a project that had been designated for a previous client of his brother’s firm.
The O’Hair case appears to begin tying together the other strands of the FBI probe that has put Murtha — who frequently appears on good-government groups’ lists of the most corrupt lawmakers — in the spotlight. In addition to the Coherent payment, O’Hair also approved a payment of $650,000 — for products that were not part of the contact — to Kuchera Industries, another defense contractor with close ties to Murtha. (Its founder, Bill Kuchera, has said, that the company would not exist were it not for Murtha.) Kuchera’s headquarters were raided by the FBI earlier this year, and in May, the Navy suspended Kuchera after tips from company insiders suggested that taxpayers may have been billed improperly for Kuchera family expenses.
And O’Hair also approved a payment to another company that was represented by the PMA Group, a now-defunct lobbying firm founded by Murtha’s former chief of staff. PMA was raided by the FBI last fall, and is being investigated for allegedly tying campaign contributions to earmarks doled out by Murtha and by another member of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, Rep. Pete Visclosky. Just in the last two years, Murtha has steered earmarks totaling around $93 million to PMA clients, and since 2002 he has taken in around $1.75 million from PMA and its clients.
Ominously, O’Hair has said he will cooperate with the Feds. Coherent’s CEO, Richard Ianieri, who earlier this month pleaded guilty to soliciting kickbacks, has also indicated he’ll cooperate.
It’s unclear where the federal probe is going, and whether it’s headed toward Murtha himself, who hasn’t been charged with any wrongdoing at this point. But it’s not a stretch to imagine that it’s already too close for the congressman’s comfort.
Late Update: A Murtha spokesman tells TPMmuckraker via email:
Congressman Murtha has said all along that if these individuals and companies broke the law then they should be held accountable for their actions, period.