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Three Hawaii defense contractors charged with illegal donations to Sen. Susan Collins

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Three former executives of a U.S. defense contractor in Hawaii have been indicted on federal charges of making unlawful campaign contributions to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and a political action committee that supported her, according to court documents.

Martin Kao, 48, Clifford Chen, 48, and Lawrence “Kahele” Lum Kee, 52, were formerly the chief executive, chief financial officer and accountant, respectively, for a defense contractor prohibited under federal law from making contributions in federal elections, according to a five-count indictment in federal court in Washington. The company was Martin Defense Group, formerly known as Navatek, the company has confirmed.

A 15-page indictment charges the Honolulu men with conspiracy, violating the contractor ban, and making conduit contributions in the name of another after they allegedly created and used a shell company called the Society of Young Women Scientist and Engineers in 2019 to funnel $150,000 to the 1820 PAC, which backed Collins. The men also allegedly used family members to contribute $52,000 to Collins’s campaign directly and reimbursing themselves with funds from their employer, according to charging papers.

FBI probing possible illegal donations to Susan Collins PAC and congressional campaign, search warrant indicates

Kao is also charged with two counts of providing false information to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), according to the indictment. Each of the five counts is punishable by up to five years in prison.

A defense attorney for Kao did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment. Chen and Kee did not immediately respond to a requests for comment.

In a statement Thursday, Collins’s campaign said there are no allegations of wrongdoing by the Collins for Senator Campaign. It added, “As stated previously, the campaign had absolutely no knowledge of any of the allegations against Mr. Kao or his associates until a search warrant was reported in the press.”

The U.S. Navy Office of Naval Research awarded Navatek an $8 million contract in the summer of 2019 to develop safer ship hulls. Collins advocated for that funding. The Campaign Legal Center first raised concerns with the FEC about the shell company’s donation in February 2020, which the Hawaii news organization Civil Beat traced to Kao and his company.

In a separate case, Kao has pleaded not guilty and faces trial in federal court in Hawaii in April on charges of bank fraud and money laundering for allegedly lying on an application to the Paycheck Protection Program to receive more than $12.8 million in federal aid.

The Martin Defense Group said in a statement Thursday that it “is fully cooperating with the government investigation and has taken its own legal actions against these former employees.”

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