By Susan Crabtree - 02/23/10 10:01 PM EST
A defense contractor who accepted a $200,000 kickback and is cooperating with federal agents investigating problems with the Congressional earmark process received five years of probation Tuesday.
A federal judge in Pensacola, Fla., gave Richard Ianieri, who faced up to 15 years in prison, a light sentence and applauded his cooperation with the FBI, according to the Associated Press.
Ianieri, who pleaded guilty in July, said he hopes to make amends for his actions, according to the Associated Press report.
“I made a terrible mistake and that weighs on me everyday,” he said.
The case could have implications in a larger Justice Department probe of earmarks and their link to campaign contributions. Ianieri previously served as chief executive of Coherent Systems International Corp., a Pennsylvania-based defense contractor with ties to the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), the former chairman of the defense spending subcommittee.
Murtha, who was never accused of wrongdoing in the investigation, died Feb. 8 after complications from gallbladder surgery.
Ianieri’s company received an $8.2 million congressional earmark to develop a battlefield communication system after hiring a lobbying firm that employed Murtha’s brother. Kuchera Defense Systems Inc. of Windber, Pa. is accused of providing the $200,000 kickback to Ianieri.
Ianieri said he was under “political and earmark pressure” to return the favor to Kuchera, although he did not say who was behind the pressure. He ended up steering $650,000 worth of work to Kuchera from the $8.2 million earmark.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Preisser impugned the earmark system as terribly flawed and suggested that Ianieri would have developed the system for a far less expensive pricetag than was appropriated.
“It would have been built for whatever [the earmark] was,” he said at the hearing, according to the Associated Press. “It just happened to be $8.2 million. It was a backward process – there was no cost analysis to justify the cost expenditure.”