National

Florida congressman earmarked funds for campaign donor

Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart has procured millions in federal funding to benefit a small Miami-Dade defense-contracting group that has donated tens of thousands of dollars to his political campaign and that of his brother, fellow U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

Medley contractors Locust USA and Mark Two Engineering began contributing to the Diaz-Balarts' campaigns and political action committees in 2001, the year Locust secured its first small defense contract. Through this year, those contributions totaled more than $67,000.

Locust was awarded $20.8 million in Pentagon research and development contracts from 2001-2007, federal contracting records show.

At least 44 percent, $9.2 million, came through Congressional earmarks sponsored by Lincoln Diaz-Balart, The Miami Herald found. The largest -- $3.7 million -- came in 2006.

''My work on behalf of Locust USA is meant to add jobs to our local economy by putting our community at the forefront of military technology development,'' Diaz-Balart wrote in reply to Herald questions.

`NO RELATIONSHIP'

Campaign spokesman Carlos Curbelo said there's ''no relationship'' between the earmarks and political contributions. ``We have a very strong firewall between our campaign and the government office.''

Locust and Mark Two, established in the late 1990s, operate out of the same modest warehouse in the 8300 block of NW 74th Ave. They've worked together to develop futuristic technologies, including small, high-speed turbine engines for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), missiles and power generators.

Diaz-Balart's office confirmed he sponsored the $9.2 million in earmarks for Locust to develop ''heavy fuel-burning engines'' for UAVs for the Army. He also helped push another recent earmark likely to raise the total over $10 million.

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