Firms Tied to Murtha Have Troubled Past

June 5, 2009

Inside the LBK Ranch, a private game preserve on a scenic hilltop here, guests mingle at a stone lodge after hunting deer and wild boar. Signs posted at intervals along the fence warn: “No Trespassing: U.S. Govt. Testing Facility.”

Defense firm owner Bill Kuchera and his wife, Lena, the owners of the 161-acre property, live in an upscale log home within the preserve and go to extensive efforts to keep out strangers.

There are no visible signs of government testing, but behind the 10-foot fence and electronic gate lies the answer to a politically sensitive question now under federal scrutiny: whether Kuchera’s companies padded their Pentagon billings and diverted taxpayer money to their own pet projects.

In January, federal agents raided the ranch, along with the homes of Bill Kuchera and his younger brother Ron and the offices of two Kuchera companies. Federal authorities are investigating tips from company insiders suggesting that taxpayers were billed improperly for Kuchera family expenses and ranch renovations, according to sources familiar with the probe.

Tens of millions of dollars in Defense Department contracts have flowed to Kuchera’s companies because of the local congressman, Democratic Rep. John P. Murtha, the chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee. The Navy recently suspended the company from future contracts while the investigation proceeds.

Murtha, who was celebrated at the LBK Ranch with a fundraiser held in his honor, last week sidestepped questions about $50 million in earmarked funds and contracts he has helped direct to Kuchera Defense Systems and Kuchera Industries Inc. since 2001.

But newly obtained documents and interviews show that the current federal investigation is only the latest chapter in the troubled history of the Kuchera brothers’ business ventures.

The Kucheras have a complicated family history that involves drug-running and a family feud that left the brothers in control of the companies. Over time they became affluent and respected defense contractors in their home town near Johnstown, Pa.

Before Bill Kuchera produced electronics and robotic equipment for the Pentagon, he helped run thousands of pounds of marijuana and some cocaine from Miami to sell in Racine, Wis., according to criminal records and accounts of others involved in the drug operation….

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