Murtha Intervenes for Company That Broke Export Law

By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 15, 2008

Rep. John P. Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat known for delivering federal money to defense contractors in his district, is now going to bat for a constituent's company that was convicted last year of illegally exporting components of military equipment.

Murtha, chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, wrote State Department officials in late June urging them to meet with the president of Electro-Glass Products, a 50-employee company that was convicted in April 2007 of illegally exporting components of night-vision goggles to a company in India. The Mammoth, Pa., firm has been sanctioned by the State Department, and Murtha argues that the action threatens to put the firm out of business.

"Electro-Glass is a highly respected company known for its honesty," Murtha wrote. He said the company, which manufactures small glass rings called "preforms," would not have made the shipments "if they truly believed the shipments were in violation of the law." He added: "It will be genuinely unfortunate if they are forced to close their doors."

But Mary Beth Buchanan, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, called the company's violation "a serious offense." The company had no license to export the items, and the government requires one to ensure "that products for military use aren't being sold to countries that might have an improper and criminal use for the product," Buchanan said.

The administrative penalty is a "significant remedy," she said, "because companies that violate federal law are the type of company that the government does not want to continue in that particular business."

Electro-Glass was convicted April 19, 2007, in Pittsburgh of a felony violation of the Arms Export Control Act for its 2004 export of 23,000 rings to B.E. Delft, a manufacturer of night-vision goggles in India.

The court fined the company $20,000. The State Department automatically put the company on its list of debarred companies, prohibiting it from participating in the export of defense goods and services for three years.

Buchanan said her office pushed for conviction because Electro-Glass had been counseled before, in 1994, that it needed certification to make future shipments.

"The history of this company is very telling," she said. " In 2004 . . . they were charged with a criminal offense because they knowingly, willfully violated the federal statute."

In his June 30 letter to David C. Trimble, director of the Office of Defense Trade Controls Compliance, Murtha wrote that the company, which relies on exports for about 25 percent of its business, deserved another chance.

Murtha has drawn criticism for securing millions of dollars in earmarks for contractors in his district and for clients of a lobbying firm run by one of his former aides. Many recipients, through employees or political action committees, donate to Murtha's political campaigns.

Electro-Glass has no federal contracts or grants and its officials have not met with Murtha or his staff, said Margaret M. Gatti, an attorney for the company. It has not received an earmark from the congressman, and its executives' names are not listed among Murtha's contributors.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company