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Cloud over Murtha earmark

Two convicted drug dealers were involved with defense firms that got millions.

WASHINGTON - Rep. John Murtha steered millions of dollars in defense work to a contractor, and the Pentagon went along, even though two convicted drug dealers were involved with the company.

Records filed in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh starting in 2005 raise questions about whether the government ever checked the background of William Kuchera of Windber, Pa., a constituent who has been doing government work for over 20 years.

The records point to the political peril for Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, and other members of Congress in allocating federal funds to specific contractors - a widely criticized process known as earmarking.

The companies owned by William Kuchera and his brother Ronald - Kuchera Defense Systems and Kuchera Industries Inc. - have received $53 million in federal contracts in this decade alone.

According to court records, William Kuchera was convicted of marijuana distribution in 1982 in Wisconsin.

In addition, a man who describes himself as an early partner in the Kuchera business in the 1980s is a convicted cocaine dealer who has served two terms in prison, according to the records.

Peter Whorley sued the Kuchera companies and William Kuchera for a share of the money the companies have collected in federal contracts. Whorley lost the case.

On Friday, William Kuchera's lawyer said his client had served nine months in prison and since that time "has built two highly successful and reputable companies with enviable records of quality, first-rate work."

In April, the Navy suspended Kuchera Defense Systems, William Kuchera, and his brother for "alleged fraud," including "multiple incidents" of incorrect charges, along with allegations of ethical violations. The Kucheras are appealing the suspension.

In 2007 and 2008, Murtha sponsored $14.7 million in defense earmarks for Kuchera Defense Systems. Before 2007, Congress did not disclose the identities of earmark sponsors, so it is impossible to know the total amount in earmarked funds Murtha has directed to the Kuchera family business.

As early as March 1992, William Kuchera made a $1,000 campaign contribution to the congressman.

Under questioning in his lawsuit, Whorley said he had invested $50,000 in the Kucheras' business. Before that, Whorley said, he had been in prison for drug trafficking. Answering questions, William Kuchera said the money from Whorley was a personal loan that "helped for my living expenses, it helped with marketing expenses, it helped with sales expenses."

Whorley said he and William Kuchera were best friends and had been involved in "drug dealings."

In the statement Friday, William Kuchera's attorney pointed to findings by the federal court in the lawsuit rejecting Whorley's financial claims. The court split the costs of the case, ordering Whorley to pay one-third and the Kucheras to pay two-thirds.