Former Rep. Bill Chappell Jr., a member of Congress for 20 years until he lost his 1988 reelection bid in the wake of allegations in the Pentagon procurement scandal, died of cancer Thursday at age 67.
The conservative Florida Democrat was pronounced dead at the National Institutes of Health outside Washington, where he had undergone treatment for bone cancer.
Last fall, Chappell, the former chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, lost to Republican newcomer Craig James by 791 votes out of about 250,000 cast. Chappell challenged the outcome for a month before conceding.
James’ campaign emphasized reports linking Chappell to an investigation of defense contractors and consultants who bribed Pentagon employees for inside information useful in winning contracts.
No charges were filed against Chappell in the case, which has resulted in a dozen guilty pleas.
News reports said federal agents were investigating whether Chappell received funds diverted from Unisys Corp. through Armtec Inc., a small contractor in Chappell’s district founded by a retired Unisys executive.
Chappell also came under scrutiny after news reports said two men tied to defense contractor Martin Marietta intervened in a foreclosure lawsuit against Chappell involving a racquet club he owned.
The congressman had dismissed the allegations as “bunk” and “hogwash.”
“I think it is mainly political,” he said during the campaign. “In my position, I’ve stepped on some toes, primarily in the Pentagon.”
While in the House, Chappell was a strong proponent of a balanced budget. He also fought to retain a manned-bomber force and for a fifth nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, and sponsored legislation that created an assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs.
In addition to 10 terms in Congress, Chappell served in the Florida House of Representatives for 10 years and was its Speaker in 1961. He was a county prosecutor from 1949 to 1954.