Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. John Murtha evidently transferred $8.2 million in a tsunami relief bill to a military equipment company that was a client of his brother's lobbying firm.
Some of that money was skimmed by contractors and a Defense Department employee for their personal use, according to a federal indictment cited in a Wednesday report by Washington, D.C.-based Roll Call.
The $8.2 million earmark was contained in a March 2005 bill providing billions of dollars worth of military spending and aid to the nations ravaged by the December 2004 tsunami in Asia that killed more than 250,000 people.
The money was designated for a unified battlefield communications platform for the Air Force to be built by a company in Murtha's congressional district, Coherent Systems.
Six months earlier, Murtha's brother Kit Murtha and his firm KSA Consulting had registered as a lobbyist for Coherent Systems, Roll Call reported.
The tsunami bill directed that the $8.2 million be shifted to Coherent Systems from two Navy research and development projects being carried out by another company with offices in Murtha's district, AEPTEC.
A spokesman for Murtha said no one in his office has any recollection of the transfer.
"But sources familiar with the appropriations process agreed it was impossible that a provision removing earmarks from one company in Murtha's district and transferring the money to another company in his district could have been added to the bill without Murtha's involvement, since he was at the time the ranking member on the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the language," Roll Call observed.
AEPTEC had been a client of both KSA Consulting and the PMA Group, a now defunct lobbying firm that had close ties to Murtha.
In recent years Murtha obtained millions in earmarks for Penn State University’s Electro-Optical Center, which then rerouted the money to clients of PMA Group, Politico reported. PMA’s offices were raided by the FBI in November. According to The New York Times, investigators were looking for evidence that PMA made illegitimate campaign contributions to Murtha.
KSA Consulting terminated its relationship with AEPTEC effective December 31, 2004. Kit Murtha doesn't exactly recall why his firm broke ties with AEPTEC, telling Roll Call: "I did know that there was some kind of thing happening about work going out of the country rather than staying here."
The federal indictment alleges that Coherent Systems gave $200,000 of the money provided in the tsunami bill to a company called Schaller Engineering for the purchase of tracking devices.
The devices were never delivered and the money was distributed to the owners of Schaller and the Defense Department program manager overseeing the project, the government charges.
The defendants deny the allegations, and the case is scheduled to go to trial later in June.
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