Bribery Indictments Include Long List of Expensive Favors
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Two indictments issued Tuesday by a federal grand jury in San Diego contain fresh details related to alleged efforts by Brent R. Wilkes, a California businessman, to bribe a member of Congress and a senior CIA official. The goal, prosecutors charge, was to get the officials to steer lucrative federal contracts to companies Wilkes controlled.
The indictments include a long list of gifts and other illegal benefits that were allegedly exchanged.
Wilkes, a former accounting student at San Diego State University, got rich from those contracts in the mid-1990s. He built an $11 million high-tech company headquarters and became a sought-after big-money donor to important Republican lawmakers.
Wilkes's contracting empire is now virtually defunct after an 18-month federal probe led to this week's charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, honest services fraud and money laundering. Wilkes and Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, the former third-ranking official at the CIA, pleaded not guilty yesterday in San Diego
Wilkes's office walls still bear photos showing him shaking hands with Vice President Cheney, presidential adviser Karl Rove, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former House majority leader Tom DeLay. But all his employees are gone, his wife is seeking a divorce, and his tax arrears and other debts -- according to a tally by the San Diego Union-Tribune -- total nearly $1.7 million.
While his businesses were run from California, the crimes he allegedly committed occurred in Washington, and fall under the rubric of corrupt influence-buying. The government says Wilkes, like his former business partner and defense contractor Mitchell Wade, lavished gifts and a taste of high living on two key contacts -- former congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) and Foggo -- to help procure federal funds.
Cunningham resigned in 2005 after pleading guilty to taking bribes from Wade. He is serving a prison term of as much as eight years. His attorney declined to comment yesterday.
Foggo has denied knowingly steering contracts to Wilkes. Wilkes has persistently denied wrongdoing, though he has also boasted of targeting selected Republican lawmakers with campaign funds to gain entree.
The indictment details how Cunningham allegedly hectored defense officials to pay Wilkes -- even when his companies had not done work to their satisfaction. The lawmaker called a defense official in Wilkes's presence and berated the official for slow payments, he pressured a principal deputy undersecretary of defense, he demanded the removal of an assistant deputy undersecretary of defense, he wrote letters to other defense officials, and he pressed his congressional aides into helping him reward Wilkes.
What was in it for Cunningham? The indictment lists the following among "more than $700,000 in payments, perquisites, and benefits" allegedly provided by Wilkes and his subordinates:
· Thousands of dollars in meals at the Capital Grille, the Palm, Ozio's, P.F. Chang's, Mr. K's, the Serbian Crown and the Confucius Cafe.