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The FBI is examining the personal financial records of House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis, the California Republican’s wife and two close advisers as part of its broadening lobbying-for-earmarks investigation that led to the imprisonment of ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.).
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) has also come under financial scrutiny by the FBI, which sent a special agent from its office in Riverside, Calif., to the Cannon House Office Building to retrieve the records of the lawmakers and advisers.
In one of the clearest signs yet that Lewis is himself under the investigative microscope, the FBI retrieved the chairman’s financial records late last month even as federal prosecutors in Southern California were issuing a series of subpoenas to towns and counties in his Congressional district, all of which were represented at one time or another in lobbying activities by a current or former Lewis staffer.
Aides to Lewis, responding to inquiries about the latest revelation of a records search, reissued a statement that the lawmaker released last week proclaiming his innocence and welcoming any review of his actions.
“I encourage a thorough review of any project I have helped secure for my constituents. I am sure they all meet the highest standards of public benefit,” he said. “Throughout my career, I have also made every effort to meet the highest ethical standards, and I am absolutely certain that any review of my work will confirm this.”
Calvert, whose district is home to many clients of the lobbying firm at the center of the probe, also welcomed the investigation into his personal finances.
“I assume the FBI is just doing their due diligence in looking at government agencies and officials from our area. I have not been contacted by the FBI,” he said in a statement.
The financial records search is part of the continuing federal probe by U.S. Attorneys in San Diego and Los Angeles into the earmarking system used by Congressional appropriators, largely for defense contractors, which grew out of the Cunningham corruption investigation.
FBI officials in the Los Angeles office, which is overseeing many of the subpoena requests for information, declined to comment.
The investigators are in particular examining the relationship between Lewis and a lobbying firm he enjoys a very close relationship with, Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton and White.
The records search in the Legislative Resources Center in Cannon was the latest sign of that, as the FBI examined the records of Jeff Shockey and Letitia White.
Shockey is currently Lewis’ deputy staff director, having returned from a six-year stint as a partner at Copeland Lowery to the Hill in January 1995 just as Lewis became chairman of the full committee.
White left a lengthy career with Lewis, capped off by a stint as his top adviser on Defense-related earmarks, in January 2003 to become partner at Copeland Lowery. After Shockey returned to Lewis’ office, White became a name partner in the firm.
Their clients at the firm have had a close connection to Lewis — they consist largely of municipalities in or near his district and firms connected to the defense industry. Lewis was the Defense subcommittee “Cardinal” before assuming the full committee gavel.
The Lewis investigation has not yet publicly produced any corruption allegations similar to those which have fueled the ongoing probe into the activities of ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff or those with Cunningham. In the Abramoff case, the admitted felon’s more than seven-year bribery conspiracy was marked by a stunning supply of illegal gratuities, ranging from free food and drinks at his restaurants to tens of thousands of dollars in secret payments to spouses in exchange for official favors.
Cunningham pleaded guilty to accepting at least $2.4 million in bribes, including many from a Copeland Lowery client, defense contractor Brent Wilkes.
For Lewis, the FBI searched financial disclosure forms from 1999 through 2004, the same years that they searched for his wife, Arlene Willis. She serves as chief of staff for Lewis in his personal office.
In Calvert’s case, the FBI searched his financial records over the same years.
It’s unclear whether this new federal examination of his finances will create any headaches in Calvert’s effort to secure the soon-to-be-open seat on Appropriations, which he has appeared to be the frontrunner to win. That seat is being vacated Friday by retiring Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas).
The FBI searched financial disclosure forms from 1999 through 2002 filed by White, according to logs left on the resource center’s computerized system. In addition, the agency pulled the financial disclosure form that Shockey filed early last year, shortly after he returned to the Hill.
That form, which covered his financial activities in 2004, his last year with Copeland Lowery, showed how Shockey went from well-connected Hill staffer in the late 1990s to multimillionaire within a few years — a level of financial success White is likely currently enjoying as well.
Shockey earned a little more than $1.5 million at Copeland Lowery in 2004, according to his disclosure form. His current staff salary now is about one-tenth that level.
When he parted ways with the firm, Shockey received a $600,000 buyout that was paid out in three payments spread over 2005.
His clients at Copeland Lowery were predominantly local municipalities, counties and local government entities in the districts of Lewis and Calvert.
White, on the other hand, initially focused on defense industry clients in her first years with Copeland Lowery, such as contracting giants General Dynamics and General Atomics.
However, according to Shockey’s disclosure forms and lobbying records, White took over at least 19 of Shockey’s local clients after he left the firm.
At least seven of those clients have now been subpoenaed by federal investigators in their dragnet search for links between the firm, Shockey, White and Lewis.
Lewis’ financial disclosure forms do not appear to include any major increases in personal wealth, although his 2003 form shows a May trip to New York City paid for by General Atomics. That trip, on which his wife accompanied him, came four months after White signed the defense contractor up as a client.
Copeland Lowery clients, and particularly those of Shockey and White, have enjoyed widespread success in winning multimillion-dollar earmarks in appropriations bills.
But Lewis has staunchly defended his efforts on behalf of towns and institutions that are in his region as simply a lawmaker doing what’s best for his constituents.
“I have always focused on providing the most possible benefits to my constituents, and I am proud of what I have been able to accomplish as a member of Congress, whether it is to re-energize our closed military bases, bring vitally-needed funds to reduce fire danger, or ensure that our congested roadways get their fair share of highway funding,” he said in his statement.
In Calvert’s case, the search of his financial disclosures came eight days after the Los Angeles Times reported on earmarks that went to redevelopment of land around an airfield near where he had invested in a parcel of land.
The paper reported that in one instance, after a $1.5 million earmark for fixing up the closed air base, Calvert and a partner sold the land for a nearly 100 percent profit a year after its purchase.
Local officials in Riverside County have defended Calvert’s work as above board and beneficial to his constituents.