Lawyer: Murtha-linked brothers to plead guilty
PITTSBURGH – Two brothers who owned defense contracting businesses that benefited from earmarks obtained by the late U.S. Rep. John Murtha will plead guilty to charging the military $650,000 for parts that were never delivered and paying a kickback to another contractor, a defense attorney said.
Ronald and William Kuchera will waive their right to be indicted and plead guilty to charges filed late last week by federal prosecutors, said Ronald Kuchera’s lawyer, Stanton Levenson. They’re waiting only for U.S. Judge Kim Gibson in Johnstown to set a court date, Levenson said.
Murtha, the powerful Democrat who chaired the House Defense appropriations subcommittee, isn’t mentioned in the twin four-page criminal informations charging the Kucheras with major fraud against the federal government and conspiracy via two companies they owned, Kuchera Defense Systems Inc. and Kuchera Industries Inc., of Windber.
But another businessman and his company previously linked to the late congressman in a lobbying-for-earmarks scheme are mentioned: Richard Ianieri and Coherent Systems International Inc.
Ianieri was sentenced by a federal judge in Pensacola, Fla., on Feb. 23, 2010 – 15 days after Murtha died following complications from gallbladder surgery.
Ianieri pleaded guilty to accepting a $200,000 kickback from Kuchera Defense Systems in return for steering $650,000 worth of work to Kuchera from an $8.2 million congressional earmark. Ianieri had testified months before his sentencing about “political and earmark pressure” to give Kuchera the business, though he never said who applied the pressure.
Ianieri faced up to 15 years in prison, but instead got five years’ probation after agreeing to cooperate with government investigators about defense-related lobbying and contracts while he was chief executive of Coherent, a high-tech defense firm he founded.
Federal prosecutors in Florida said Ianieri got the earmarked contract after hiring a lobbying firm that employed Murtha’s brother. At the time, Murtha’s office refused to say whether the congressman sponsored the earmark.
Kuchera Defense Systems was suspended from bidding on government contracts in 2009 after overcharging the Navy and for other ethical violations. The company resolved those problems to get off the government’s “blacklist” only to be put back on later that year once the charges against Ianieri surfaced.
FedSpending.org , a website that tracks government money, reported at the time that Kuchera Defense Systems and Coherent had been awarded more than $50 million apiece in defense work since 2000. Murtha, in an April 2006 news release, said Coherent and Kuchera Defense Systems were working “virtually as one company” on 14 contracts totaling $30 million.
According to the new charges filed March 21, the Kucheras conspired to defraud the government by inflating their costs, which were passed on to the government, and by charging Coherent – the prime contractor on the military’s Ground Mobile Gateway System – for $650,000 worth of parts that were never delivered. The Ground Mobile Gateway System is a communications system used to coordinate air strikes requested by troops on the ground.
The brothers were also charged with filing false federal tax returns by taking deductions for nonallowable expenses, including “lobbying,” a private airplane, “an out-of-state vehicle used for personal purposes, hunting trips and expenses for a game ranch.”
William Kuchera, 57, of Summerhill, was president of the Kuchera firms when this happened, while Ronald, 51, of Johnstown, was secretary-treasurer. Each owned 50 percent of the companies they founded in 1985, prosecutors said.
Levenson said an agreement to plead guilty, which has yet to be filed, “speaks for itself,” though he intends “to make the court aware of the high quality and usefulness of the military products the Kucheras consistently provided to the government, as well as the numerous contributions and charitable good works the Kucheras have made to their community.”
Levenson said he’s confident the court will then “fashion a sentence which will temper justice with mercy.”