U.S. Rep. Mollohan the Target of Federal Investigation

Article excerpt

FAIRMONT, W.Va. -- Neither a federal investigation into his finances nor watchdog groups on the left and right calling him one of the most corrupt men on Capitol Hill has stopped U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan from bringing home the bacon.

Motorists winding through hill country south of Morgantown, near the Democrat congressman's hometown here, can't miss the gleaming Interstate 79 Technology Park that sprouted through his efforts.

The steel skeleton of a new Commerce Department building stands next to a NASA software facility, easily spotted because of the 20- foot white rocket mounted in front.

Across the goose pond, at the center of it all, the Alan B. Mollohan Innovation Center commemorates the park's creator in large bronze letters over the doors.

Inside, past a bust of Mollohan, is another of his creations. The West Virginia High Technology Consortium Foundation, which Mollohan founded, oversees federally funded projects and contracts steered to the state's northernmost congressional district, thanks to Mollohan's powerful post on the House Appropriations Committee.

To take one example, there is the $9.6 million Navy contract the foundation won last year to make BomBots.

Essentially souped-up, remote-control trucks, a BomBot can dump a 10-pound explosive charge on a roadside bomb to blow it up. Costing about $5,000 each, the BomBot is easy to replace if it doesn't get away in time. The Navy bought more than 2,000 for its Marines to use for clearing the perilous roads of Iraq.

BomBots were developed not in West Virginia but at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. But it was Mollohan who funnelled $3.75 million in Defense Department grants to the foundation to test the machines, which eventually led to the manufacturing contract, according to a foundation press release.

In a state where a considerable pillar of the economy rests on U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd's legendary federal largesse, Mollohan, 64, has built a formidable reputation of his own.

Finances at issue

The 13-term congressman, who succeeded his father in a seat the family has held for more than 40 years, has directed nearly $500 million in grants and contracts to his district in the last decade - - much of it to the high-tech foundation and a few other tax-exempt organizations he founded -- according to Citizens Against Government Waste.

The fiscally conservative watchdog group named Mollohan "Porker of the Year" for 2006. But some say the congressman is responsible for more than just pork.

Mollohan is under federal investigation, as are several tax- exempt organizations with links to him. No charges have been filed.

Morgantown's Dominion Post, citing unnamed sources close to the investigation, reported that a grand jury began hearing testimony about Mollohan's finances in April.

The National Legal and Policy Center, a conservative group that has investigated Hillary Clinton and Jesse Jackson, sent a 500-page complaint about Mollohan to the U.S. attorney in Washington last year.

It said Mollohan omitted or misrepresented personal financial dealings on required disclosure statements, according to Ken Boehm, the center's chairman.

Boehm said the center's complaint also focused on real estate purchases Mollohan made with people heading companies or organizations that received federal funds he earmarked.

"I don't know of another member of Congress, current or past, who earmarked money to organizations associated with his business partners. It's just too far over the line," Boehm said.

New House and Senate rules promise to identify sponsors of earmarks -- spending tacked on to appropriations bills anonymously by legislators on both sides of the aisle to finance pet projects. It remains to be seen whether the transparency rules will put a brake on such spending.

Last year, Mollohan corrected what he said were "inadvertent errors" on his financial reports. …