Wilkes Indicted for Illegal Gifts
With just two days remaining in her tenure, San Diego U.S. Attorney Carol Lam on Tuesday announced the indictment of a key figure in the probe of ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.), signaling that the wide-ranging investigation continues and could yet ensnare other high-profile targets.
Lam charged California defense contractor Brent Wilkes with providing Cunningham with more than $700,000 in varied gifts from 1996 through 2005 in exchange for help in securing federal contracts. The bribes included personal checks, corporate jet travel, meals, the purchase of a yacht, and an August 2003 Hawaiian vacation in which the Congressman allegedly enjoyed two nights of prostitution services at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel.
Wilkes firm, ADCS, which converted electronic military documents to paper form, allegedly received more than $100 million in federal contracts with Cunningham’s help. Cunningham sat on the Appropriations and Intelligence committees during that time, and his prodding of Defense Department officials is detailed in the indictment.
Named as a co-conspirator in the Wilkes indictment, Cunningham pleaded guilty in November 2005 to accepting more than $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors in exchange for official acts. He currently is serving a sentence of more than eight years in prison.
Mitchell Wade, the former president of MZM Inc., also is named as a co-conspirator. Wade pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and is awaiting sentencing.
Simultaneously on Tuesday, Lam announced the indictment by a federal grand jury of Wilkes and Dusty Foggo, a former CIA executive director and childhood friend of Wilkes. In this second indictment, Foggo was charged with using his influence and position in the CIA to award contracts to Wilkes’ companies.
Lam secured the indictments two days before she is slated to leave office after being fired by the Bush administration in December along with six other U.S. attorneys, causing Democrats to charge their firings were improper and political. Deputy U.S. Attorney General Paul McNulty is slated to brief Judiciary Committee Senators today in a closed-door session on the prosecutors’ personnel records.
“High government positions and powerful connections should not be tickets to corrupt self-enrichment,” Lam said in a statement. “The public trust is not for sale.”
The indictment of Wilkes, in particular, could cause a headache for one other California Congressman: Rep. Jerry Lewis (R), the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles was investigating whether Lewis improperly steered federal contracts or earmarks to some of Wilkes’ companies.
The prosecutors are probing Lewis’ relationship with the lobbying firm of ex-Rep. Bill Lowery (R-Calif.), which was once called Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White. One of Wilkes’ defense firms, ADCS, was a former client of the lobbying firm.
Lewis is not mentioned in the indictment.
The 42-page indictment of Wilkes is wide-ranging and charges a variety of criminal activities. It also names John Michael Thomas, the president and part owner of New York-based mortgage company Coastal Capital Corp., with helping Cunningham obtain a fraudulent mortgage.
Lam lays out 150 examples of Wilkes, Wade and other co-conspirators providing gifts to Cunningham, or instances of Cunningham soliciting official actions on their behalf.
They include: the purchase by Wilkes’ company on July 30, 1997, of a “yellow Sea-Doo Speedster” boat at a cost of $11,255; an $821 flight to Las Vegas paid for by Wilkes for Cunningham and his chief of staff on Dec. 18, 1999, and their hotel stay there; an “inflatable jet dock” for Cunningham’s boat provided by Wilkes on Sept. 13, 1999, at a cost of $7,101.16; and April 20, 2000, tickets to a Jimmy Buffet concert in Chula Vista, Calif.
Also given to the former House Member by Wilkes, according to the indictment, were two personal checks in the amounts of $70,000 and $30,000 on May 1, 2000, and an in-flight meal consisting of a “cold seafood platter, grilled chicken or filet mignon, a side salad and six bottles of Silver Oak chardonnay” on Feb, 26, 2001. On March 13, 2001, Wilkes allegedly directed an ADCS employee to install a GPS system on Cunningham’s boat.
Also noteworthy were charges that Wilkes provided Cunningham with two nights with prostitutes and a $6,600 Hawaiian hotel suite in August 2003.