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Earmarks Became Contractor's Business
Business was so good for Wilkes that he allegedly gave Cunningham $100,000 in 2000, according to the former congressman's recent plea agreement. And the following year he expanded his business by setting up his own lobbying firm, Group W Advisors, in the Washington suburbs, to pursue earmarks.
He became an active supporter of leading House Republicans and began flying Cunningham and several others around on a corporate jet. As he cultivated new political friends, he became less dependent on Cunningham to win him earmarks.
For example, in June 2002, Wilkes and an associate, Max Gelwix, established PerfectWave Technologies LLC, which was trying to perfect a way to delete background noise from radio communications. According to a knowledgeable source, Wilkes held a 51 percent interest in the company, as became his practice.
A month later, Wilkes hired the Alexander Strategy Group, a lobby shop run by former aides of then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). Wilkes, Gelwix and their wives and associates then began donating to DeLay, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.), a member of the Appropriations Committee, among others.
They donated more than $85,000 to Doolittle's campaign and political action committee between 2002 and 2005. Doolittle acknowledged to The Washington Post recently that he sponsored earmarks, totaling $37 million, in defense funding bills for PerfectWave Technologies, beginning in 2002. Wilkes divested his majority interest in PerfectWave late last year after the Cunningham charges and his role in them became public.
Wilkes's pitch for seeking earmarks and a partnership with his neighbor Beck is outlined in a lawsuit filed by Beck's Horizon Sports last year. Wilkes's pledge of snaring the $25 million Navy contract soon led to other promises, according to the suit, with Wilkes saying he could get Beck part of another $25 million earmark for energy-efficient vehicles.
By early 2004, Beck's group had wired $1.2 million to Wilkes while Group W had registered to lobby for two newly created companies, according to the lawsuit. Wilkes suggested the names -- Acoustical Communications Systems for the Navy project, and Optimum Composite Design, for the energy-efficient vehicle.
But the relationship soon soured. Horizon Sports complained in its breach-of-contract suit that Wilkes did not deliver on his promise of big cash from Congress. Only a single earmark for $1 million was included in the fiscal 2005 defense appropriations bill for "advanced shipboard acoustical communications," a term for Beck's technology. Wilkes and his companies insisted that they lived up to their contracts with Beck, and the case was settled out of court last fall. Neither side will discuss the details because of a confidentiality agreement.
In a court filing Friday, prosecutors in the Cunningham case said that in May 2004 the congressman demanded that Wilkes give $525,000 to pay off a second mortgage on Cunningham's new home in Rancho Santa Fe. Wilkes agreed, the document said, on the condition he receive an additional $6 million in government funding, which he did through a Pentagon subcontract.
Last year, Group W registered to lobby for another new company, Pure Aqua Technologies, in another partnership deal. According to a paper circulated at an industry trade show in Hawaii in late 2004, Pure Aqua was created by Wilkes's ADCS Inc. and Pure-O-Tech Inc. of Escondido, Calif. The company makes water purification technologies, including one to treat contamination from percolates, an oxidizer in rocket fuel and explosives.
In mid-2004, $3 million in funding that was not requested by the Bush administration was added to the fiscal 2005 defense appropriations bill in the House. The measure was cut to $1.5 million when it reached a House-Senate conference committee. An additional $2.7 million for the specific technology Pure-O-Tech used was added to the Pentagon appropriation in the House committee last June but did not survive in the final bill.
Can Sirin, Pure-O-Tech's president, said in a recent interview that Wilkes "assisted us in getting earmarked money through a congressman, which we were grateful for." He recalled that the earmark was for $1.5 million and said the description in the fiscal 2005 conference report matched his technology. But he said he could not remember which congressman sponsored it and was not aware of a second attempt to earmark $2.7 million.
His company discussed an equal partnership arrangement with Wilkes, he said. But Sirin said he ended the talks when Wilkes's relationship with Cunningham surfaced last summer.
"We just didn't need that," he said.