The Small Business Administration helped Wedtech Corp. finance a defense contract only because of interest expressed by a top aide to presidential counselor Edwin Meese III, the agency's former No. 2 official testified yesterday.
Donald R. Templeman, testifying at former White House aide Lyn Nofziger's conflict-of-interest trial, said SBA officials put aside skepticism and helped Wedtech finance the $32 million contract to build Army engines following inquiries by James E. Jenkins, deputy presidential counselor.
"Frankly, we would not have gone along with the contract had it not been for Mr. Jenkins' interest," said the SBA's former deputy administrator.
Templeman said Jenkins called him three or four times in April and May 1982 to inquire about the progress of negotiations between SBA and the Army on financing the no-bid contract that had been set aside for minority businesses.
Jenkins expressed his interest in fulfilling President Reagan's 1980 campaign promise to help bring jobs to the South Bronx, the economically devastated New York City neighborhood where Wedtech was located, Templeman said.
During these conversations, Templeman said he told Jenkins SBA "had some serious doubts" about giving Wedtech large amounts of government money to finance the project.
But at a May 19, 1982, White House meeting convened by Jenkins, Templeman said he pledged that the SBA would provide $5 million in financing to help Wedtech get the contract.
Templeman said Jenkins called him on June 15, 1982, to find out why Wedtech had not received a formal commitment of the SBA financing. "He asked me to look into it and see what was holding it up."
"I expedited it and got it signed," Templeman said.
"Mr. Jenkins didn't strong-arm anybody at the meeting?" asked defense lawyer E. Lawrence Barcella.
"No, he didn't," Templeman said.
Nofziger, former White House political director, is charged with four counts of improperly lobbying former colleagues on Reagan's staff in 1982 on behalf of Wedtech and two other clients.
His partner, Mark A. Bragg, is accused of aiding and abetting an alleged contact by Nofziger with Jenkins. Conviction on each of the charges could carry up to a two-year sentence and a $10,000 fine.