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Kansas GOP hopeful acknowledges business claim is inaccurate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Republican candidate in a hotly contested Kansas congressional race acknowledged Wednesday that claims he made on the campaign trail about starting and expanding a small business in the Middle East are not accurate.

Steve Watkins, who is running against Democrat Paul Davis for the 2nd District seat in eastern Kansas, often cited his experience starting the small business as one of his strengths in the race. Democrats hope to pick up the seat, now held by retiring GOP Rep. Lynn Jenkin, even though President Donald Trump carried it by a wide margin in 2016.

“I got out of the military, started a small business and grew it from three people to 470 people. So I know what it’s like to have to sweat it and work to make payroll, to not take any salary so you can make ends meet,” Watkins told a Miami County GOP candidate forum in March.

And in June he told supporters in Neosho that he started an engineering and security paramilitary company that worked for the U.S. government in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We grew to a number of countries. We grew from three people to 470 with me as the principal during that growth period,” he said.

The Kansas City Star reported that records and interviews it conducted with company officials show the company, which Watkins called VIAP Inc., existed years before he was a consultant.

VIAP Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Versar Inc., a global project management firm based near Washington, D.C.

Theodore M. Prociv, CEO of Versar from July 2000 to February 2010 and company president from 1999 to 2010, said Watkins was “nobody that I’ve heard of.” Several other executives also told The Star they didn’t remember Watkins.

Watkins acknowledged last week that he didn’t own VIAP and The Star found no public records showing that Watkins had any ownership stake in VIAP or Versar.

“When I say I helped start and grow, it was operational,” Watkins said. “There were processes, systems that didn’t exist and I helped to start and create those processes and systems and products and services that we provided clients.”

Watkins emerged from a crowded Republican primary in August with 26 percent of the vote to face Davis, a better-known former Kansas House leader who narrowly lost the 2014 governor’s race. Davis carried the 2nd District in that bid.

VIAP was founded as Versar Services in 1997, according to Versar’s general counsel and incorporation documents filed in Delaware. At the time, Watkins was a student at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, where he graduated in 1999.

Watkins’ federal financial disclosure forms also don’t mention VIAP as an asset but do show him earning income from Versar in 2017 and 2018.

Watkins began working as a consultant for Versar in 2004, said Nayna M. Diehl, Versar’s corporate counsel and director for contracts. He was a consultant for the entire time he was involved with Versar, except from February 2011 to March 2012, when he was listed as an employee before returning to work as a consultant.

“Mr. Watkins’ work throughout the time he was involved with Versar helped to grow our international operations in those countries,” Diehl said.

At the request of Watkins’ campaign, Brian Arbuckle, a former military colleague of Watkins who is now vice president of engineering and construction management at Versar, provided some information on the congressional hopeful, which he stressed was not a statement from Versar.

Arbuckle said in an email that Watkins and a small team started, developed and grew international operations under the name VIAP. Arbuckle said Watkins led teams of hundreds of professionals that provided engineering and construction quality assurance services in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.



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