Politics & Government

GOP's Martinez lobbied Pentagon on behalf of big donor

Sen. Mel Martinez's office repeatedly intervened in a 2007 legal dispute between the Defense Department and a company owned by a top Republican fundraiser who is now at the center of a campaign-finance investigation, according to records obtained by The Miami Herald.

In a series of phone calls and e-mails, a Martinez aide urged Pentagon contract officers to seek a ``fair resolution'' to $14 million in contract claims sought by the International Oil Trading Co., a fuel-supply company co-owned by Harry Sargeant III of Boca Raton.

At one point, Pentagon officials told the senator's office it was ``not appropriate'' to discuss any settlements while the company's lawsuit was pending in court, records show.

As Martinez's staffer was lobbying the Pentagon, Sargeant and his wife donated $50,000 to the Republican National Committee -- then headed by Martinez. At the time, Sargeant was the finance chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

Martinez, who will step down from his Senate seat next week, did not respond to several interview requests made through his press secretary.

In the past, he has said the RNC donations were unrelated to Sargeant's contract dispute.

Sargeant's company ultimately received $3.2 million from the Defense Department -- settling claims the Pentagon had initially denied entirely. The Pentagon says Martinez played no role in the settlement.

Sargeant gained notoriety last year as a fundraiser for Republican presidential candidate John McCain, whose campaign returned $50,000 in suspicious donations solicited by a Sargeant business partner. In February, an employee of a Sargeant company was indicted on federal charges of funneling illegal contributions to several candidates, including McCain and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist -- a college buddy of Sargeant's.

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