JOHNSTOWN, Pa.—Two brothers who co-owned a western Pennsylvania high-tech defense contracting firm championed by the late U.S. Rep John Murtha pleaded guilty to major fraud against the federal government and conspiring to avoid paying income taxes.

William Kuchera, 58, and Ronald Kuchera, 51, each face 30 to 37 months in federal prison when they're sentenced Oct. 7. Each will also wind up paying more than $1.5 million in fines, restitution and forfeitures stemming from the scheme involving Kuchera Defense Systems, Inc. of Windber.

Their company was paid $650,000 to produce high-tech defense components for an unmanned Humvee project meant to help ground troops coordinate air cover and eliminate friendly-fire casualties. Instead, the Kuchera brothers kept the money but produced nothing, while kicking back more than $200,000 to prime contractor, Coherent Systems International Inc. Coherent's founder, Richard Ianieri, is serving five years' probation for the scheme involving an $8.2 million contract obtained by a Murtha earmark.

Murtha died of complications from gallbladder surgery in February 2010, 15 days before Ianieri pleaded guilty, was sentenced and agreed to cooperate in the Kuchera investigation.

Federal prosecutors in Florida said Ianieri got the earmarked contract after hiring a lobbying firm that employed Murtha's brother. FedSpending.org, a website that tracks government money, reported that Kuchera Defense Systems and Coherent had been awarded more than $50 million apiece in defense work since 2000. Murtha, in an April 2006 news release, said Coherent and Kuchera Defense Systems were working "virtually as one company" on $30 million worth of contracts he helped them land.

Defense attorneys Stanton Levenson and J. Alan Johnson said they'll ask for less than the prison sentence spelled out by federal guidelines, because they contend the Kucheras did a lot of good and are paying, financially, for their crimes.

"Their company has produced world-class equipment for the military," Johnson said, adding that the Kucheras employed hundreds of people—including large numbers with disabilities—and aided many charities before they were forced to sell their businesses during the investigation.

"Today we saw one side of the story, but there's another side," Johnson said.