- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2009

Federal investigators remained tight-lipped Sunday about what was behind the searches carried out last week at Windber, Penn.-based defense contractors Kuchera Defense Systems and Kuchera Industries.

The raids have drawn attention in Washington, because of the firms´ close links to their local congressman, Rep. John P. Murtha, chairman of the House defense appropriations subcommittee.

There is no suggestion that the investigation involves Mr. Murtha, a Democrat, and his office said the congressman had not been contacted by any of the agencies involved.

Agents from the U.S. Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) - which investigates fraud, bribery, corruption and other forms of abuse by Pentagon contractors - executed three search warrants Thursday at western Pennsylvania addresses connected to the firms, spokesman Gary Comerford told United Press International on Sunday.

He referred further questions to the office of local U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan, whose spokeswoman did not return calls or e-mail Sunday.

The Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, the first media outlet to report the raids, said agents targeted the building where both firms are headquartered, and the homes of two brothers, William and Ron Kuchera, who are the chief executive officer and the chief financial officer of the two firms, respectively.

The paper said about 20 agents from DCIS, the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service took the names and personal details of 300 or so workers at the firms´ headquarters, and then sent them home.

Over the weekend, the paper, citing multiple but unnamed sources “close to the investigation,” said part of the probe is looking into the financing of the LBK Game Ranch, a 161-acre hunting range operated as a private business by William Kuchera.

The ranch often is used to entertain clients and suppliers. Last fall, the paper said, it “was the site of a high-end fundraiser” for Mr. Murtha´s campaign, which raised more than $100,000.

Employees and officers of the two companies have made at least $60,000 in donations to Mr. Murtha´s campaigns and political action committees since 2002, according to Federal Election Commission records.

“Our office has a working relationship with most companies in our district,” Murtha spokesman Matthew Mazonkey told UPI. “As far as this case is concerned, we have not been contacted by any of the agencies involved.”

Since 2002, the firms´ employees also donated more than $30,000 to other Pennsylvania congressmen, according to the Hill newspaper, including Republicans Sen. Arlen Specter and Rep. Bill Shuster, and Democrats Sen. Bob Casey and Rep. Patrick J. Murphy.

The Kuchera corporation has received millions of dollars in earmarked federal spending at Mr. Murtha´s behest. Last year, according to WJAC-TV, $8.2 million in earmarks requested by the congressman went to Kuchera.

According to the Roll Call newspaper, Mr. Murtha regularly issues news releases touting the latest contracts Kuchera has received from federal agencies.

In April 2007, for instance, Mr. Murtha´s office announced that the company had been awarded a sub-contract from defense giant Raytheon that could be worth as much as $100 million over 10 years. The contract was to produce data and guidance equipment for missiles, called telemetry systems, that Kuchera said at the time that it would have to acquire the capability to build.

“Telemetry manufacturing is a new capability for Kuchera Defense and will require new skill-level training for employees,” William Kuchera said in the press release.

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