- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A retired Florida couple would appear an unlikely source to have given $83,000 in campaign donations over a five-year period to members of Congress from all over the country.

Both in their 80s, they lived in a $118,000 Daytona Beach house they didn’t own; they each voted only twice since 1992; and they seemed to lack the financial means to make the contributions.

Yet, both were listed as having given dozens of donations to lawmakers, nearly half of which went to members of the House Appropriations Committee - legislators who were especially important to their then-son-in-law, superlobbyist Paul Magliocchetti, who owned the house in which they lived.

Mr. Magliocchetti is now the focus of a federal investigation into whether he made illegal campaign contributions by reimbursing people, or “straw donors,” who made contributions in their names to his favored candidates - helping the lobbyist avoid federal limits on his personal donations.

In addition to the elderly couple, The Washington Times has identified several other campaign contributors related to or associated with Mr. Magliocchetti who also do not appear to have had the financial means to make the donations listed in their names or who gave to candidates to whom they normally would not be expected to contribute.

Mr. Magliocchetti is a one-time congressional staffer who worked with Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, on the powerful House Appropriations defense subcommittee in the 1980s. He built his company, the PMA Group, into one of the 10 top-grossing lobbying firms in Washington before it imploded after federal agents raided it and his home in November 2008.

The firm made more than $16.4 million in lobbying income in 2007, according to Senate records, and was the go-to lobbyist for contractors who wanted earmarks - especially from the defense appropriations subcommittee, which Mr. Murtha heads.

Earmarks are taxpayer funds that lawmakers specifically set aside for favored contractors and projects in annual spending bills. For 2008, PMA obtained $300 million in defense appropriations earmarks for its clients, according to an analysis by Congressional Quarterly and Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group.

A review by The Times of federal campaign-disclosure records shows that Mr. Magliocchetti returned the favor to his friends in Congress by serving as a major campaign donor and fundraiser.

As a group, Mr. Magliocchetti, his family, his employees and his business associates were among the largest donors to key members of the defense subcommittee - including Mr. Murtha and Democratic Reps. James P. Moran of Virginia and Peter J. Visclosky of Indiana, pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into their coffers. All three members have denied any wrongdoing.

Mr. Magliocchetti gave a total of $434,154 to federal candidates and committees since he became a lobbyist in 1989, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a nonpartisan group that monitors political fundraising. Since the government limits how much a person can give to federal candidates, Mr. Magliocchetti often gave the maximum in his name and got others to donate, the records show.

His family members - his wives, his two children and his in-laws - gave a total $1.2 million to federal candidates and committees. In each case, the family member’s personal finances were intertwined with or dependent on his. Lobbyists and other PMA employees gave an additional $2 million since 1989.

While it is not illegal for Mr. Magliocchetti to solicit donations for political candidates of his choice, federal investigators want to know whether he illegally reimbursed any of those who made contributions on his behalf.

That investigation has spread to Capitol Hill, where a federal grand jury has subpoenaed campaign and office records from Mr. Visclosky.

Investigators also are trying to determine whether members of Congress or their staffs engaged in a “pay to play” scheme with Mr. Magliocchetti and his firm, in which they exchanged earmarks for donations.

Mr. Magliocchetti’s attorney, William E. Lawler III, declined to comment.

The Times’ review of public records found a pattern of donations from unlikely sources that were directed to congressmen Mr. Magliocchetti wanted to support. In some cases, the donors did not appear to have the personal funds necessary to make such substantial donations. In others, the donors had rarely voted or given donations before they started supporting Mr. Magliocchetti’s slate of candidates.

The unlikely donors include Mr. Magliocchetti’s first wife’s parents, two business associates - a golf pro and a wine sommelier who lived near his Florida condo - his children, and his former sister-in-law and her husband, a Virginia police officer.

Federal election law says: “No person shall make a contribution in the name of another person or knowingly permit his name to be used to effect such contribution.” In 2002, Congress toughened the law, making most violations a felony instead of a misdemeanor and increasing the penalties.

Paul Ryan, a lawyer with the Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group, said some of the findings about donors uncovered by The Times “raise red flags and deserve a closer look” to see if there were violations of federal law.

The in-laws

Edwin and Lewanna Kreger are the parents of Mr. Magliocchetti’s first wife, Nancy. They lived in a two bedroom house in Daytona Beach the Magliocchettis purchased in 1984 for $66,000, according to court records. In 2001, the Magliocchettis transferred the title to LaFamiglia LLC, a company they and their two adult children, Mark and Jennifer, owned. The assessor now values the property at $118,000.

The Kregers made $83,000 in federal donations from November 2000 to September 2005, including $33,000 after their daughter filed for divorce from Mr. Magliocchetti in early 2004, seeking to end their 34-year marriage, and $30,000 to Mr. Magliocchetti’s closest friends on the defense subcommittee - $12,000 to Mr. Murtha, $8,000 to Mr. Moran and $10,000 to Mr. Visclosky.

Despite their hefty donations, the couple appeared to have few assets and rarely voted.

Mr. Kreger died in April 2006 at the age of 87. His will was filed a few days later, and the judge determined he had no assets that needed to be probated. His wife died in January 2009, also at 87. Her estate did not go through probate.

Florida records show they were not active voters. Since they registered to vote in Florida in 1992, they each voted twice - Mr. Kreger in the 2000 and 2002 general elections and Mrs. Kreger in the 2002 and 2008 general elections.

Mrs. Magliocchetti declined to comment on her parents’ donations.

“I really can’t comment on that,” she said in a brief telephone interview.

Business associates

Two Florida business associates of Mr. Magliocchetti each gave $80,000 to members of Congress in just over three years. John Pugliese, 36, and Jon Walker,41, made virtually parallel donations beginning on June 13, 2005, and ending on Oct. 16, 2008, shortly before the raid on Mr. Magliocchetti’s office and home.

The two men and Mr. Magliocchetti lived on Amelia Island in northeastern Florida. The three hoped to open a restaurant there with the lobbyist’s second wife, Rebecca Kingery.

Neither man made political donations before he started giving to Mr. Magliocchetti’s candidates in 2005, federal campaign records show. In addition, both are registered Republicans, yet each gave more than $66,000, or 82 percent of their donations, to Democrats - those supported by Mr. Magliocchetti and PMA.

Despite their Republican registrations, the two men each donated less than $14,000 to Republicans.

The source of Mr. Pugliese’s and Mr. Walker’s campaign cash is unclear. Mr. Walker works as the marketing director at the Amelia Island Golf Club and Mr. Pugliese was listed as a wine sommelier at the Ritz-Carlton on the island. Both lived in single-family homes they each purchased for about $138,000 a few years earlier.

In addition, both Mr. Pugliese and Mr. Walker have a history of borrowing against their homes for extra cash, even during the times they were donating to Mr. Magliocchetti’s candidates. according to Nassau County, Fla., land records.

Mr. Magliocchetti put the two on the PMA board even though they were not lobbyists and were based in Florida. They were first listed in an annual report he submitted in Virginia in December 2006. His first wife, Nancy, also not a lobbyist, was a board member in 2003 and was paid $42,000 a year, according to her filings in divorce court.

Such directors’ fees would appear to be excessive for a small non-publicly traded company, raising questions on whether the director payments were to be used to make campaign donations in violation of federal campaign law. Other non-lobbyist board members have included his daughter, Jennifer Magliocchetti, and Rebecca Kingery, who became his second wife. Both were major donors.

Mr. Walker declined to comment about his campaign donations and PMA. Numerous calls to Mr. Pugliese’s home went unanswered. His wife said she did not know how to reach him.

The planned restaurant apparently never got off the ground. The state of Florida dissolved the restaurant company, Firenze Partners LLC, in September for not submitting its annual report.

The children

Jennifer Magliocchetti, 32, an assistant ticket director with a Florida minor league baseball team, has given $66,200 to federal candidates since 2002, records show. She was listed as a PMA director from 1998 to 2006 and her personal finances are closely tied to her father through real estate investments.

Records show she bought a home in Wesley Chapel, Fla., for $390,000 with her father in 2007 at the same time she bought a second home in Tampa. They have a $312,000 mortgage on the Wesley Chapel home. Mr. Magliocchetti also was on the $167,196 mortgage on a third property she owned in Tampa from May 2004 to January 2006.

Jennifer, her brother Mark and Mr. Magliocchetti also owned a condo in St. Augustine, Fla., which they bought in December 2001 for $669,500 and sold in November 2003 for $850,000. She also was part of the family company, LaFamiglia, with her father, brother and mother, which owned a Jacksonville Beach condo in addition to the Kregers’ house, records show.

Miss Magliocchetti did not respond to phone messages and e-mail requests seeking comment.

Mark Magliocchetti, 34, a lobbyist for PMA, and his wife, Leslie, gave $475,794 to federal candidates and committees. Mark Magliocchetti’s biography says he worked for a member of the House Appropriations Committee when he got out of college. He was named to the PMA board in 1998 and became a lobbyist for the firm in 2002.

Mark and Leslie Magliocchetti’s finances also are heavily tied with Mr. Magliocchetti, records show. Since September 2003, the couple has lived in the Fairfax Station, Va., house that Paul and Nancy Magliocchetti owned, only recently acquiring the title. They sold a house they owned on Amelia Island in November 2008 for $490,000 after having borrowed more than $140,000 against the equity.

Mark Magliocchetti hung up after telling The Times he did not want to talk about his campaign contributions or the lobbying business. “I would rather not talk to you,” he said.

Nancy’s sister

Nancy Magliocchetti’s sister, Sandra Welch, and her husband, Joseph, gave $229,000 to federal candidates since 1998, records show. Mrs. Welch, a former teacher, was listed as a PMA lobbyist from 1998 to 2006, and her husband was a Fairfax County Police officer from 1983 until September 2006.

The couple currently live near Nancy Magliocchetti in Port Orange, Fla., in a house for which they paid $197,470 in 2002. Records show they gave $112,000 to Mr. Magliocchetti’s candidates after Nancy Magliocchetti filed for divorce in January 2004.

Their contributions stopped around the time the Magliocchettis’ divorce was finalized in September 2006 and Mrs. Welch left PMA.

Mrs. Welch also declined to discuss her campaign contributions and PMA.

“I have no comment. Thank you,” she said.

The wives

Nancy Magliocchetti, the first wife, was listed as giving $183,896 to federal candidates and committees, including $16,000 in the period shortly after she filed for divorce in January 2004. Her contributions stopped in May 2004.

In 2003, records show she was paid $42,000 as a PMA director and made $36,000 in donations to federal candidates. She was dropped as a board member in 2004.

Mrs. Magliocchetti declined to comment on her campaign donations. Campaign experts said spouses are allowed to use joint funds to make their personal donations.

Rebecca Kingery DeRosa, who recently became Mr. Magliocchetti’s second wife, has donated $189,155 to federal candidates since 2002. More than half of the donations were made after PMA began listing her address on corporate records as Mr. Magliocchetti’s Arlington condominium in 2005. Some of the donations are in the name of Rebecca Kingery and others in the name of Rebecca or Becky DeRosa, records show.

She was listed as a director of PMA beginning in 2002, but she was not listed as a lobbyist. She was sometimes described as PMA’s controller on campaign records.

Payday

Lobbying clearly paid off for Mr. Magliocchetti, according to public records. He took a $1 million PMA salary, lived in a $2 million Florida home, and bought several other Florida condos. He also had a $975,000 condo in Arlington and a home in Fairfax County in Virginia.

In their divorce, Nancy Magliocchetti said the contents of their wine cellar was worth $350,000, although Mr. Magliocchetti put the value at $73,968. The divorce settlement spells out that Mr. Magliocchetti would have “sole ownership of all wine” in their Virginia home “free and clear of any claim by the wife”

Despite all his campaign donations, Mr. Magliocchetti voted only once in the last eight years - the November 2008 general election, according to records in Nassau County, where he has been registered to vote since late 2000.