Ex-Air Force Employee Pleads Guilty in Case Tied to Murtha Earmark
A former Air Force employee pleaded guilty Monday to skimming money from an earmark that was provided to a Pennsylvania defense contractor by Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.).
In the plea agreement, Mark O’Hair admits he was the Air Force official responsible for evaluating contract proposals and making technical evaluations of contracts under the “battlefield airman— program, which was designed to integrate battlefield communication technology.
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.
O’Hair admits in the plea agreement that he approved several purchase orders from Coherent for items that were not part of the Gateway project, including $275,000 to VidiaFusion Inc. and $300,000 to Gensym, both for software that was provided but never used. Gensym and VidiaFusion were both clients of KSA as well.
O’Hair also approved a payment of $650,000 to Kuchera Industries — a firm close to Murtha that was raided by the FBI earlier this year for products that were not part of the Gateway contract, and $200,000 to Schaller Engineering for “target tags— that were never provided. Schaller was represented by the PMA Group lobbying firm, which was raided by the FBI in November.
Richard Schaller, the founder of Schaller Engineering, then distributed the $200,000 to O’Hair though another company he created and to his business partner Thomas Sumrall, according to the plea agreement. Sumrall has also pleaded guilty in the case, but Schaller has not.
Richard Ianieri, the former CEO of Coherent Systems, 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 Industries and shared a facility with the company. Bill Kuchera, the owner of Kuchera Industries, has not been charged in the case.
Roll Call has previously reported that Kuchera, Sumrall, Schaller, Ianieri, O’Hair and two KSA executives — Ken Stalder and Richard Weiss — as well as a staffer from Rep. Murtha’s district office met with several other defense contractors in September 2005 at the Nemacolin resort in Pennsylvania to discuss opportunities to provide communication technologies to the military.
Murtha has not been accused of any wrongdoing in the case, and his office has said that anyone involved in illegal activity connected to the project should be punished.