Justice Dept. Investigates Pa. Contractor Tied to Murtha
Monday, May 25, 2009
In tiny, cash-strapped Monongahela, Pa., the city clerk was stunned when federal investigators arrived this fall with a subpoena seeking information on a crime-fighting grant she'd never heard of. She takes pride in tracking every dollar in the municipal budget.
The $15,000 federal grant was to buy police radios and other equipment to protect the city's 4,700 residents, but it had traveled an unusual route, never crossing the clerk's desk.
Over the past five years, a local defense contractor with close ties to Rep. John P. Murtha, a Democrat who has represented southwestern Pennsylvania for three decades, has selected several small police departments in the region to receive $10 million in Justice Department grants.
The company, Mountaintop Technologies, was selected by the lawmaker in a series of earmarks to hand out and monitor the grants. As it distributed the money to the departments, the firm would explain each time that it was arriving through the largess of Murtha -- often just before fall elections.
Once she learned from the investigators that Monongahela's police department was getting money outside of normal channels, City Clerk Carole Foglia was disturbed.
"I wasn't happy with the situation at all," Foglia said. "I didn't want to be involved in anything that was done improperly, because that's not the way I work in my office. And this was improper. No question about it."
The tale of how a defense company ended up getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to distribute federal police grants is a chapter in a larger story of Mountaintop Technologies, its far-flung operations and its dependence on Murtha. The Johnstown firm has received at least $36 million in the past eight years in earmarks and military contracts, without competition and with the backing of Murtha, the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee. It also hired the lobbying firm where Murtha's brother worked.
Mountaintop Technologies founder David H. Fyock said there was nothing improper in the police grants or in any of the company's contracts. The Justice Department's inspector general declined to comment on its probe of the company's role in the police grants, which surfaced last year. Federal law enforcement sources who spoke anonymously said the earmarked grants drew attention because the company was a registered defense firm with little experience in law enforcement. Murtha's office did not respond to a request for comment.
Fyock said in an interview that taxpayers get great value from Murtha's earmarks. He and many other local residents argue that Murtha's push for hundreds of millions of dollars for the region created a new economic base after the big steel companies shut down in the 1970s. Earmarked contracts have also given his company a chance to prove its worth to federal agencies that could bring other business, he said.
"We are pretty darn good at managing contracts," he said. "We get the work because Congressman Murtha and his staff are well aware of our capabilities."
In many cases, the company was paid to hire experts to do the highly specialized work.
Taxpayer advocates complain that the company has often appeared to be an unnecessary middleman, and they question how it can be the best choice to oversee work in such diverse fields as defense, law enforcement and medicine.