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Lawmaker Says Nothing Wrong in Investment

October 12, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The senior Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee says he sees nothing wrong in accepting a one-third interest in an investment venture funded by a businessman whose companies have done $50 million in government defense work since 1987.

Rep. William L. Dickinson, R-Ala., said Wednesday he approached Montgomery, Ala., industrialist Ben Collier in 1986 with ″what I thought was a good business opportunity″ and Collier agreed to put up $300,000.

Dickinson said he supplied the ″contacts″ for the Montgomery Investment Club and the two men agreed that any profits or losses would be shared one- third by Dickinson and two-thirds by Collier.

But the business opportunity soured when the $300,000 was turned over to Steven A. Streit of Huntsville, Ala., whose claims of unusually high investment earnings had attracted some 300 investors. Streit eventually pleaded guilty to securities fraud and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Streit’s assets were frozen in early 1987, and Dickinson said the investment club has received about 90 percent of the $300,000 from a bankruptcy clerk that is serving Streit’s creditors.

Dickinson said he does not think his one-third interest in the investment club violates a House ethics rule that prohibits members from accepting gifts of more than $100 from any individual who has a direct interest in legislation before Congress.

″If he’s got a direct interest in legislation I don’t know what it is,″ Dickinson said of Collier. ″He’s never asked me to vote any way, I don’t know of any legislation he’s interested in and that’s as far as it goes.″

He said he saw nothing ″illegal, immoral or unethical″ in the deal.

Collier owns 45 percent of American Apparel Co., which was formed in 1987 after Collier and several associates purchased the assets of the bankrupt Selma Apparel Co.

The firm now has three plants in Alabama, and according to Rick Cippele, a part owner of the company, has received $48.6 million in uniform contracts awarded by the Defense Logistics Agency after competitive bidding.

Collier also owns half interest in National Microsystems, a Montgomery company that manufactures electronics components and test equipment for the aerospace, automobile and appliance industries.

Mark Chesnutt, director of public affairs for National Microsystems, said $3 million of the company’s $9 million in total revenue this year came from subcontracts with two major defense contractors, United Technologies Corp. and GTE Government Systems.

Dickinson said he has promoted National Microsystems among defense contractors, just as he has promoted other businesses in his district that are interested in Pentagon work.

But he said he had nothing to do with Collier’s purchase of the assets of Selma Apparel, or with the new company’s subsequent approval by the Pentagon as an acceptable bidder on defense contracts.

Before Collier began negotiating to buy the bankrupt firm, Dickinson said he signed a letter along with other members of the Alabama delegation urging the Pentagon to save 600 Alabama jobs by permiting Selma Apparel to resume bidding on defense contracts.

The company had been barred from bidding after its owner, James Utsey of Philadelphia, was convicted of federal bid-rigging charges.

After Collier submitted his bid to bankruptcy court, lawmakers again urged the Pentagon to allow American Apparel to bid on government contracts. Dickinson was the only member of the Alabama delegation who did not sign the letter, according to Walter Braswell, an aide to Rep. Claude Harris, who initiated the letter.

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