February 9, 2009 -- The FBI raided the offices of a defense lobbying firm with close ties to Democratic Rep. John Murtha (Penn.), sources tell ABC News.
The FBI searched the Virginia headquarters of the PMA Group in November, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. PMA was founded by former congressional aide Paul Magliochetti and specializes in winning earmarked taxpayer funds for its clients.
Good government groups have long criticized Murtha's cozy relationship with a handful of lobbyists and defense firms, ties that see millions of dollars in government spending go out from Murtha's office, and hundreds of thousands in campaign donations come in. Murtha has said his earmarking has helped revive his economically depressed district.
PMA is the second company with close ties to Murtha to be raided by federal agents recently. In January, agents from the FBI, the IRS and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service searched the office of Kuchera Industries and Kuchera Defense Systems, as well as the homes of the firms' founders. The companies reportedly have received over $100 million in earmarks, thanks to Murtha's efforts.
Investigators have not commented on their interest in the companies, and no official has suggested Murtha was involved in any suspected wrongdoing by the companies.
While it is unclear whether Murtha is a target of the investigations, the heightened scrutiny of some of his closest donors and allies signals that the Feds may be inching closer to the 35-year-member of Congress, who chairs the powerful Defense Appropriations subcommittee.
"The FBI is showing a lot of interest in" a lot of people around Murtha, said Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense. "If I was in Murtha's camp, I would not be sleeping at night."
A spokesperson for PMA Group, Patrick Dorton, confirmed the raid in a statement Monday afternoon. "Government representatives did come to the PMA offices. They requested a number of different kinds of information," Dorton said. "The firm is cooperating with their requests."
Asked if Murtha had been contacted by the FBI or if he believed he was the target of an investigation, spokesman Matthew Mazonkey said "no and no," adding, "I'm not going to waste my time with sensationalized journalism."
The PMA Group and Murtha
The PMA Group has benefited mightily from its ties to Murtha. In 2008, it brought in $13.8 million in revenue representing dozens of defense companies and contractors, many of which have donated heavily to Murtha. The veteran Pennsylvania Democrat has helped the firm secure millions in federal earmark dollars. Indeed, in 2008, PMA clients won $299 million in earmarks, according to figures compiled by Taxpayers for Common Sense.
While the firm represents some defense giants like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, a large portion of their business comes from small defense firms headquartered in and around Murtha's district. In addition to Magliochetti, at least one other former Murtha aide, Julie Giardina, also works at PMA.
The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has called Murtha one of the most corrupt members of Congress, for taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from companies and writing them millions of dollars in earmarks. Murtha has declined to comment on the designation.
Soon after the raid on PMA's offices, the firm's other senior members began talking to founder Magliochetti about an arrangement that would include him leaving the firm, according to the National Journal. Asked whether these discussions were related to the raid, Dorton declined to comment.
Murtha is no stranger to controversy. In the late 1970s, he was targeted in the "Abscam" scandal, a three-year FBI sting in which agents posed as representatives of an Arab sheik and offered suitcases of cash to lawmakers for favors. According to reports at the time, Murtha declined the undercover agents' cash offer, but suggested the "sheik" find a way to invest the money in his home district.