Stepdaughter Of Lawmaker Got Money From PAC
Thursday, June 8, 2006
A stepdaughter of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has been paid more than $40,000 since early last year by a political action committee funded substantially by donations from a lobbyist close to the congressman and from her firm's clients.
Lewis's stepdaughter, Julia Willis-Leon of Las Vegas, is listed as director of the Small Biz Tech PAC. She received $44,474 of the approximately $115,000 the committee has collected since it was set up in February 2005, federal election records show.
The lobbyist, Letitia White -- a former longtime Lewis aide -- is the largest donor to Small Biz Tech. She is also part owner of the $1 million Capitol Hill house that initially served as PAC headquarters.
Her firm -- Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White -- has come under scrutiny for its relationship with Lewis, according to sources close to the investigation. The U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles has been sending subpoenas to some of the firm's clients.
John Scofield, a spokesman for the Appropriations Committee, said yesterday that Willis-Leon is Lewis's stepdaughter from his marriage to Arlene Willis, who is the congressman's staff director. In response to questions about Willis-Leon's work for the PAC, Lewis said only: "I have always made every effort to meet the highest ethical standards in all aspects of my congressional work. I am confident that any review of my work will confirm this."
Willis-Leon, who formerly owned a wedding company in Las Vegas, received a retainer, commissions and other fees of $39,420 and $5,054 for reimbursements of fundraising expenses, according to the PAC's records. During the same period, the PAC made donations to three House members totaling $5,700. Willis-Leon did not return several telephone messages.
White left Lewis's staff in early 2003 for the lobbying firm, whose principals include former congressman Bill Lowery, also a Lewis confidant. A month after White joined, she became the lobbyist of record for Trident Systems Inc. of Fairfax, a defense contractor. At the end of the year, White and her husband bought the house on Third Street SE with Trident's president, Nicholas Karangelen, and his wife. The real estate deal was reported this week by the New York Times and the Web site TPMmuckraker.com.
Karangelen became chairman of the Small Biz Tech PAC and donated $10,000. White and her husband made $15,000 in contributions, and four executives from two other clients of her firm gave an additional $11,500. Karangelen's company paid the lobbying firm $340,000 through the end of 2005.
Patrick Dorton, a spokesman for White, said yesterday that she bought the home "as a private citizen" and that the "purchase was not connected to any fee arrangement or any work for Trident." He described Karangelen and White as friends.
Dorton declined to answer questions about what White used the home for, or any role she may have played in the PAC or the payments to Willis-Leon. Karangelen did not return calls seeking comment.
Trident Systems has received more than $40 million in federal contracts in the past few years, including some funding that was earmarked in defense appropriations bills. Karangelen testified at a House hearing last June on the advantages small technology companies offer the Defense Department.
Taxpayers for Common Sense, a group that traces earmarks, identified Trident as the recipient of two $1 million earmarks in the fiscal 2006 defense appropriations bill.
Former congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) is serving more than eight years in prison after pleading guilty last fall to steering federal funds to two defense contractors in return for more than $2.4 million in bribes, including an inflated purchase price on his home in San Diego. One contractor has pleaded guilty and the other, who was once a client of Copeland Lowery, is still under investigation.