A defense consultant at the center of an unfolding Pentagon fraud investigation acknowledged Friday he paid other consultants for "technical information" on contracts but denied he made payments to government employees.

William Parkin, a former top Navy contracting official who retired in 1983 and set up his own consulting firm, said he began making monthly payments to consultant Fred Lackner in late 1986 for information on a pending Navy contract for special aircraft equipment.Parkin said he paid Lackner between $15,000 and $18,000 and that he then provided the contract information to his client, Hazeltine Corp. of Long Island, N.Y.

"I will say it wasn't secret material," Parkin said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "It was technical information."

The Justice Department has asserted in an affidavit for a search warrant that wiretapped conversations showed Parkin "served as a middleman who paid government employees for inside information and sold it to contractors."

"I deny vehemently that I made payoffs to government officials," Parkin was quoted as telling the Wall Street Journal in an article published Friday. "I bought information from (consultant Lackner) and passed it to Hazeltine. That is where I made an error."

At Hazeltine headquarters, an official said any company comment on the matter would come from executive Steve Harran, who was not immediately available.

Parkin is the second consultant this week to describe an informal and extensive network of consultants, government officials and defense contractors whose interests in passing information often meshed.

Thomas Muldoon, another consultant who, like Parkin, was named in federal search warrants in June, was quoted by the Hartford, Conn., Courant on Sunday as saying he never asked about the sources of sensitive information he received from other consultants and neither did the companies to which he passed it.

"Companies never ask you where you get the information," Muldoon said. "There was never any doubt what I was being paid for."