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March 3, 2006

 

Katherine Harris Caught Up in Bribery Scandal

Campaign Donations From Defense Contractor Under Scrutiny

 

By MITCH STACY, AP

 

[Getty Images]

Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Fla., said her office has not been contacted about the investigation.

 

TAMPA, Fla. (March 3) - U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris said Thursday she did not knowingly do anything wrong in her associations with a defense contractor who prosecutors say illegally funneled thousands of dollars to her campaign in 2004.

 

Questions about the donations have arisen as Harris, the former Florida secretary of state who oversaw the 2000 presidential election recount, tries to unseat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

 

The donations were described in a plea agreement last Friday, when Mitchell Wade, the former president of MZM Inc., pleaded guilty to bribing U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham in exchange for assistance in getting $150 million in Defense Department contracts for his company.

 

He also admitted making illegal campaign contributions in the names of MZM employees and their spouses to Harris and Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Va. Prosecutors said Harris got $32,000 from employees who were reimbursed by Wade. Harris said she recently donated the money to charity, and didn't know the donations would be reimbursed.

 

In the plea agreement, Wade acknowledged dining with Harris at a Washington restaurant in 2005 to discuss a possible fundraiser for her and obtaining funding for a Navy counterintelligence program involving his company. She requested the funding, but Wade didn't get it.

 

"I requested a $10 million appropriation for the U.S Naval Criminal Investigative Services project because I thought it would bring new jobs to Sarasota," said Harris, R-Fla. "I never requested funding for this project in exchange for any contributions, but rather to bring more high-skill, high-wage jobs to the region."

 

Wade has been cooperating with federal prosecutors in Washington and San Diego since last summer and is required to continue to do so as part of his plea agreement with the government. He faces up to 20 years in prison. Prosecutors said they are continuing to investigate and won't say if Harris is a subject.

 

Harris said her office has not been contacted about the investigation.

 

"I think these revelations should matter to voters because I think ethics should count for something in a public servant," said Dan McLaughlin, spokesman for Nelson.

 

03-03-06 04:33 EST

 

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.

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