House Appropriations Chairman Is Facing Federal Investigation
Friday, May 12, 2006
The Justice Department has begun investigating the activities of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, focusing in part on his dealings with a lobbying firm that hired some of his former staff members, sources familiar with the inquiry said.
One source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation, said subpoenas have been issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles.
Lewis said in a statement yesterday: "Neither I nor any of my staff have been contacted" by federal investigators. Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney, had no comment on the investigation, which was first reported in yesterday's editions of the Los Angeles Times.
Recent news accounts have outlined the close relationship between Lewis and former representative Bill Lowery, whose lobbying firm, Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White, specializes in seeking earmarks -- money set aside in legislation for specific projects.
John Scofield, a spokesman for Lewis, said that the chairman and Lowery, a former House member from a neighboring Southern California district, are "very good friends."
Two former Lewis staff aides have joined Lowery's lobbying firm in recent years. Last year, when Lewis became Appropriations chairman, one of them, Jeffrey S. Shockey, returned to become a top committee aide.
When he did so, he filed a financial disclosure report that showed he earned $1.5 million in 2004 as a lobbyist and was paid $600,000 last year in a separation agreement with Lowery's firm. Scofield said Shockey received ethics committee approval of the separation agreement.
Lowery did not return calls to his office yesterday.
The Lewis inquiry is at least tangentially connected to an ongoing congressional bribery case centered in San Diego and Washington, one source said. In that case, former representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) admitted he had accepted $2.4 million in bribes. Brent Wilkes, a San Diego defense contractor, is under investigation for allegedly bribing Cunningham.
Cunningham, a longtime colleague of Lewis's and, like him, a member of the Appropriations Committee, pleaded guilty and resigned in November. He was sentenced to more than eight years in prison. Wilkes has been identified as a co-conspirator in that case but has not been charged. Another contractor, Mitchell J. Wade, of Washington, pleaded guilty early this year for his role in bribing Cunningham.
In his statement yesterday, Lewis denounced Cunningham's behavior. Lewis said he had never told anyone seeking funding that they must hire a particular lobbying firm, and that he and his staff "never consider who the Washington representative is when reviewing project requests. I welcome a thorough review of these projects by anyone."
Research editor Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.