Contractor on Trial in Cunningham Case

The Associated Press
Friday, October 12, 2007; 6:33 PM

SAN DIEGO -- A defense contractor who pleaded guilty to bribing former U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham testified Friday that Cunningham told him to lie after news broke about their illicit business transactions.

"Duke said we should say it was a deal between two friends," said Mitchell Wade, who bought Cunningham's San Diego-area house for nearly twice its market value.

Wade's former mentor, Brent Wilkes, is on trial on charges of bribing Cunningham, who held seats on House intelligence and defense appropriations committees.

Cunningham, a Republican who was elected to eight terms, pleaded guilty in 2005 to accepting $2.4 million in bribes from Wilkes and others and was sentenced in 2006 to more than eight years in prison.

Wade testified that Cunningham's support was so critical to securing millions of dollars in federal contracts that defense contractors were willing to act like they were his friends.

Wilkes is accused of paying $625,000 toward Cunningham's houseboat and mortgage payments on his Rancho Santa Fe mansion. Prosecutors say he also treated Cunningham to expensive dinners and luxurious getaways that included visits to escort services.

In return, they say, Cunningham directed about $90 million in contracts to Wilkes' companies.

"We would dread having dinner with (Cunningham) and having to listen to him repeat the same jokes," Wade told jurors.

Wade, a former government employee who was an unnamed co-conspirator in Cunningham's plea agreement, pleaded guilty last year to plying the lawmaker with more than $1 million in bribes in exchange for $150 million in government contracts. He is cooperating with prosecutors and has not been sentenced.

Wade ran a consulting business out of his home until 1998, when he began raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in consulting fees from Wilkes. He testified that Wilkes expected the congressman to help him in negotiations with Pentagon officers about millions of dollars in contracts for a project to digitize paper documents.

Wilkes shook his head "no" periodically during Wade's testimony.

In one instance, Wade said he coordinated a weekend stay at the Four Seasons hotel in Las Vegas in 1999 for himself, Wilkes, Cunningham, a Cunningham staffer and a Pentagon official. In a report he prepared for Wilkes, Wade called the trip a planning session and didn't mention the congressman or his chief of staff.

"I wanted to hide that they were there," Wade told Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Forge.

A former Cunningham staffer testified Thursday that Wilkes and Wade were Cunningham's top two funding priorities, ahead of larger and more established firms like San Diego-based wireless giant Qualcomm Inc. or defense giant Northrop Grumman.

Wilkes, 53, has pleaded not guilty to 14 counts of conspiracy, bribery, fraud and money laundering. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.

© 2007 The Associated Press