Nation & World

House report: GOP fundraiser cheated on Iraq fuel contracts

A Boca Raton defense contractor and prominent GOP fundraiser inflated the profits on contracts to provide fuel to the U.S. military in Iraq, costing taxpayers as much as $180 million, congressional investigators concluded in a letter released Thursday.

The Democratic leader of a congressional oversight committee said International Oil Trading Co. -- co-owned by Harry Sargeant, a longtime friend of Gov. Charlie Crist and the finance chairman of the Florida Republican Party -- has a virtual monopoly on military fuel contracts, allowing the company to earn twice as much in profits as past suppliers.

The Defense Department has paid Sargeant's company $1.4 billion over the past four years, with IOTC winning contracts even though its prices were often higher than those of other bidders, U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman said in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates urging a Pentagon investigation.

Based on company documents and Pentagon records, IOTC has made $210 million in profits since 2004 -- a 14 percent profit margin, the California congressman said.

''The IOTC contracts stand out for the extent of the company's apparent profiteering,'' Waxman said.

Sargeant could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

Republican Party of Florida spokeswoman Erin Van Sickle said she did not know anything about the investigation and could not comment on its merits. However, ''the timing certainly seems to be suspicious, given that we're three weeks out from Election Day,'' she said.

Waxman released the 15-page report Thursday without first alerting the office of the ranking Republican on the committee, Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, who was out of town.

Sargeant has been one of the top fundraisers for Republican presidential candidate John McCain. His family and companies have made nearly $2 million in political contributions in recent years, largely to GOP candidates, a Miami Herald review found.

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