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Murtha-favored contractors to plead guilty to defrauding Defense Department

Two brothers whose defense business flourished with the help of Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) plan to plead guilty next week to overbilling the Defense Department for their work and paying kickbacks to win business, according to their attorneys and court records.

William and Ron Kuchera, who together owned Kuchera Defense Systems and Kuchera Industries in Windber, Pa., are accused by federal prosecutors of billing the military $650,000 for supplies they never provided and conspiring to inflate their bills for other military work.

Murtha, a powerful Democrat who died in 2010 from an infection he contracted during a gallbladder surgery, had previously helped steer $50 million in earmarked funds and contracts to Kuchera-owned companies. The Kucheras and their employees donated a total of $106,000 to Murtha’s reelection campaigns.

The Kucheras had been paid to provide supplies for the Ground Mobile Gateway System, a communication system the Air Force used to coordinate airstrikes requested by ground troops.

A Florida businessman who won the prime contract for the project, which was awarded under a congressional earmark, pleaded guilty in 2009 to accepting a $200,000 kickback from the Kucheras in exchange for giving them part of the Ground Mobile Gateway supply business. The businessman, Richard Ianeri, said in his guilty plea that he won the Gateway contract as a result of hiring Murtha’s brother and told prosecutors he had been under political pressure to give some of the work to the Kucheras.

The Kucheras also plan to plead guilty to claiming some of their costs as business expenses when they weren’t, including personal expenses such as a private airplane, hunting trips and keeping up the family’s private game preserve, the LBK Ranch, according to a court document.

Prosecutors laid out the detailed claims against the Kucheras in a March 21 court filing called a criminal information. The document, which can be filed only with the parties’ agreement, signals that the defendants intend to waive indictment and plead guilty. Stan Levenson, Ron Kuchera’s attorney, said the brothers plan to plead guilty at a hearing scheduled for Tuesday in federal court in Johnstown, Pa.

Levenson said Wednesday that the Kucheras had made mistakes but also had aided the national defense and had been good patrons in their community. He said he hoped the judge overseeing their sentencing would see that side as well.

“I intend to make the court aware of the high quality and usefulness of the military products the Kuchera companies consistently provided to the government, as well as the many contributions and good works they’ve made to their community,” Levenson said.

Before his death, Murtha had been one of the most powerful members of Congress and controlled no-bid defense contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year as chairman of the House military appropriations subcommittee. He long showered earmarks on companies that donated to his campaign and opened headquarters or satellite offices in his financially struggling congressional district in central Pennsylvania.

At the time of his death, Murtha was under an FBI investigation for steering work to companies that gave his campaign donations and agreed to hire his brother as a lobbyist.

Alice R. Crites contributed to this report.

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Carol Leonnig covers federal agencies with a focus on government accountability.

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