By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 17, 2008
A leading House Democrat alleged yesterday that a top fundraiser for Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain has been involved in apparent war profiteering by inflating prices on jet fuel in defense contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The allegations surround the activities of Florida businessman Harry Sargeant III, founder of International Oil Trading Co. (IOTC) and a prolific donor to political candidates from both parties, though mostly Republicans. McCain's campaign Web site says Sargeant has raised at least $500,000 for his presidential bid.
Sargeant has been a well-known figure in Florida political circles as a longtime patron of Gov. Charlie Christ (R) and, most recently, as the finance chairman of the state Republican Party. He gained notoriety earlier this year for joining with a Jordanian business partner to bundle $2,300 checks for McCain, as well as presidential candidates Rudolph W. Giuliani (R) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), from donors that included a Taco Bell manager, an auto mechanic and a grocery store clerk. The McCain campaign returned the money raised by the Jordanian.
"This obviously has nothing do with the McCain campaign," said McCain spokesman Brian Rogers.
"John McCain has always called for full transparency in military contracting, and if there's a nonpolitical mechanism for looking at credible allegations, then that should obviously go forward."
Yesterday's allegations came in a letter from Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House oversight committee, to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and pertained to contracts IOTC brokered with the military to ship jet fuel to Iraq for use by aircraft based there.
"I have been conducting oversight of procurement problems in Iraq since the war began over five years ago," Waxman wrote. "The IOTC contracts stand out for the extent of the company's apparent profiteering. Of the $210 million in profits received by the company, at least one third -- $70 million -- appears to have benefited a single individual: Mr. Sargeant."
Efforts to reach Sargeant yesterday were unsuccessful. But in an interview earlier this year, Sargeant defended his military contracts and pledged to cooperate with Waxman's investigation. "Everything we have done on this contract has been in the best interest of the military and the U.S. taxpayers," he said.