Nephew Mentioned Rep. Murtha in Dealings as Contractor

Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) chairs a subcommittee that oversees defense spending.
Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) chairs a subcommittee that oversees defense spending. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
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By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Robert C. Murtha Jr. has made a sizable living for years working with companies that rely on Pentagon contracts over which his uncle, Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), holds considerable sway.

He has maintained that his uncle played no role in his defense-related work, much of it secured without competition. Newly obtained documents, however, show Robert Murtha mentioning his influential family connection as leverage in his business dealings and holding unusual power with the military. The documents add to mounting questions about Rep. Murtha, whose use of federal earmarks to help favored defense companies and whose relationship with a former lobbying firm are under scrutiny by federal investigators.

The congressman has used his control over Pentagon funds to build a hub of defense-related industry in his congressional district and has also received generous campaign donations from the companies.

Robert Murtha, an engineer, benefited from some of the defense contracts when companies brought him in to manage a small portion of the work. Even when the main contract shifted to a new company, he continued to be paid as part of the team. Some former business associates and employees told The Washington Post that they thought the role played by Robert Murtha's companies was unnecessary.

Jeff Curtis, an engineer who worked for Robert Murtha's company in 2001, contacted The Post to say that he and some co-workers did virtually no work on a project to make kits to test for biological agents. Curtis said he remains "furious" that taxpayer dollars were wasted.

"I was always thinking, 'Why is the government paying this company?' " said Curtis, 29, who is now doing engineering work in North Carolina. "If it's fair to have this kind of no-bid work, I'll start a company and do it for half as much. Because this company didn't do anything."

In e-mails obtained by The Post, Robert Murtha told a business partner in 2001 that there were conditions for "keeping funds flowing." Part of the federal work, he said, must be channeled to Johnstown, Pa., his uncle's home town.

"This has been a requirement for what I do to get dollars through," Robert Murtha wrote in an e-mail to a senior official with NMS Imaging of Silver Spring, the lead contractor on a project to produce biological test kits.

Robert Murtha, 49, recently told The Post that it is "unfortunate" that some will assume his family ties led to government contracts.

"We do good work," he said.

He did not respond to requests for comments on his e-mails or operations. Rep. Murtha's office requested written questions but did not respond to them.

The documents obtained by The Post, including Robert Murtha's e-mails and invoices, appear to contradict his assertions that his uncle played no role in his extensive Pentagon business.

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