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SIERRA PROBE A YEAR OLD, U.S. REVEALS

The top Defense Department agency commissioned to investigate fraud has been looking into the affairs of the Sierra Research Division of LTV in Cheektowaga for more than a year.

Mike Raggi, senior agent for the Defense Criminal Investigative Service office in Syracuse, said the probe of Sierra started more than a year ago and is continuing.

Sierra employs about 900 people building target practice components and simulators for the Navy, sophisticated aviation communications programs for the Army and Air Force and trainers for space shuttle astronauts.

Raggi said all the results of the Defense Department investigation are being given to U.S. Attorney Dennis Vacco in Buffalo. Vacco refused to characterize the investigation as criminal or non-criminal.

But Vacco said he was annoyed by Sierra's announcement Monday to employees that it had suspended with pay the division's president, two vice presidents, its business development director and a project engineer because of a government "review of certain Sierra programs."

"I'm not real pleased with the fact that the company spoke of a federal review of any sort," Vacco said.

The man who made Monday's announcement, LTV President Robert N. Parker, based at LTV headquarters in Dallas, was in Buffalo Tuesday directing Sierra division activities. He declined to return telephone calls.

Reps. Henry J. Nowak, D-Buffalo, and Bill Paxon, R-Amherst, were unsuccessful in attempts to learn more from the Defense Department about the probe and its effect on the plant and its employees. In Buffalo, Lt. Col. Robert Bienvenue, commander of the local Defense Contract Management Office, said his agency had no role in the probe of Sierra, but added the Defense Criminal Investigative Service is keeping tight control over whatever it has turned up.

Greg Williams, an investigator for the Government Procurement Project, a Washington-based interest group, said the Defense Criminal Investigative Service's principal mission is to investigate fraud and criminal conduct by defense contractors.

Other Defense Department investigative agencies, he said, deal only with civil matters.

An investigation by the Defense Criminal Investigative Service can clear individuals or companies under scrutiny or lead to an indictment by a local federal prosecutor. It also can result in non-criminal cash payments to the government and administrative settlements, where individual executives are either fired or eased out of their companies.

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