Earmarks lobbyist indicted for illegal campaign contribution scheme

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A master pay-to-play defense lobbyist in the center of a controversial web of Capitol Hill relationships highlighted by the Center for Public lntegrity was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury.

Paul Magliocchetti, head of the now-shuttered PMA Group, was accused of running an illegal campaign contribution scheme to boost his firm’s “influence, power, and prestige,” according to the indictment. PMA Group once stood at the crossroads of an estimated billions of dollars in mostly defense earmarks, millions in campaign contributions to lawmakers, and as a bastion of former congressional aides-turned-lobbyists.

Magliocchetti and PMA Group were a focus of the Center’s two-part “The Murtha Method” investigation last fall, named after Democrat John Murtha of Pennsylvania, the late chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Before forming PMA in 1989, Magliocchetti was a staffer on the subcommittee. Murtha became its chairman the same year, in 1989.

Magliocchetti’s lawyer did not immediately return a call for comment.

The 11-count indictment issued in federal district court in the Eastern District of Virginia charged Magliocchetti with:

  • Illegally using corporate money to boost the income of his employees so they could use the money to make campaign contributions;
  • Organizing “straw” contributions by using family members and two acquaintances who lived near his Florida vacation home to get around federal campaign contribution limits when he maxed out; and
  • Making false statements to the Federal Election Committee, because he “caused various campaign and political action committees… to unwittingly file reports with the FEC which falsely stated” that Magliocchetti’s family, employees and acquaintances had made the contributions, instead of him or PMA.

To keep the illegal contribution scheme going, Magliocchetti tracked the payments in his records as bonus payments and salaries for his employees, according to the indictment. He also tracked the campaign contributions of his straw donors in a spreadsheet maintained by his assistant. PMA employees believed “their failure to make the required political contributions would adversely impact their employment at PMA,” the indictment said.

The exact amount of illegal contributions is unknown, and was described by the indictment as “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The indictment did not say that the earmarks Magliocchetti sought and often received for his clients were illegal. Earmarks are appropriations directed by individual lawmakers that are not part of the executive branch’s vetted budget request.

However, investigators with the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) found evidence that at least two lawmakers, Indiana Democrat Peter Visclosky and Kansas Republican Todd Tiarht, both on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, may have connected earmarks with campaign contributions. The House Ethics Committee rejected calls by OCE for further investigation of the two lawmakers, clearing them and five other members of the subcommittee. The OCE then turned its evidence over the Justice Department.

In a related development, Magliocchetti’s son, Mark, pled guilty on Thursday to collecting as much as $200,000 in illegal straw contributions to political candidates by him and in his wife since 2002 through 2008. He will be sentenced on Nov. 16.

Paul Magliocchetti appeared in court on Thursday and has been released on a $2 million bond. According to the court, he is receiving mental health treatment.