Prosecution Rests in California Bribery Trial
Thursday, October 18, 2007
SAN DIEGO, Oct. 17 -- Prosecutors trying San Diego businessman Brent Wilkes for allegedly bribing then-Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) rested their case Wednesday with brief testimony from two prostitutes who said they were paid to have sex with Wilkes and the lawmaker.
Wilkes sat beet-faced at the defense table as a woman in a black suit with long, dyed-blond hair testified that Wilkes and Cunningham argued in a Jacuzzi at a Hawaiian beachfront hotel over which of them would have sex with her and which with her companion, who appeared to be somewhat older.
The other woman, Donna Rozetta, said Cunningham was smoking a cigar and had "heavy jowls and a puffy face." She noted that he fed her grapes before taking her upstairs and having sex with her.
Both women said they were paid by a younger man who had answered the door of the hotel suite. That man had earlier identified himself in the courtroom as Joel Combs, Wilkes's nephew and former employee, and now a star witness for the prosecution.
The women's turn on the stand capped seven days of testimony that depicted Wilkes and a former business partner, Mitchell Wade, as trying to outdo each other with extravagant efforts to secure Cunningham's support for tens of millions of dollars worth of defense contracts in congressional earmarks.
Wilkes is on trial in a federal court here on 25 counts of bribery, conspiracy, fraud and money laundering. Combs, who is cooperating with prosecutors, was granted immunity. Wade has pleaded guilty to bribing Cunningham with more than $1 million in cash and goods, and is cooperating with prosecutors.
Cunningham pleaded guilty in 2005 to conspiracy and tax evasion for accepting $2.4 million in bribes. He is serving an eight-year term in a minimum-security prison in Arizona. Prosecutors said that the Defense Department, under Cunningham's pressure, signed more than $80 million in federal contracts with businesses run by Wilkes.
In court on Wednesday, prosecutors led Combs through a description of the menus a Wilkes company prepared for seafood and filet mignon feasts on private charter flights carrying Cunningham; a bill from the Capital Grille for a Cunningham meal that cost more than $3,000; and a Hawaiian cocktail party that featured caviar and lobster.
As jurors snickered or rocked back and forth in their chairs, Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip Halpern displayed a photo of Cunningham and Wilkes on a Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, golf course; a certificate showing that Cunningham received machine-gun training there; and photos of speedboats of the type that Combs said Wilkes bought for the congressman.
The prosecutor also showed a 60-second video of Cunningham, Wilkes, Combs and others on a scuba-diving trip in Hawaii. One held a rock for the camera with the name "Duke" written on it. At the end, Wilkes is shown on deck of the boat crying, "Bali Hai!"
Combs testified that he never saw Cunningham pay for any of the meals, flights, golf games or trips. He also testified that Wilkes's company, ADCS Inc., overcharged for computer equipment it sold the government, or sold software and hardware that the government did not need. When Pentagon officials raised questions, Combs said, Wilkes told him not to worry, that "he was going to work it out. He was going to get hold of Duke."
On cross-examination, Wilkes's attorney, Mark Geragos, drew an admission from Combs that he did not work in the accounting department of Wilkes's company and would not have seen any bills sent to Cunningham, if such bills had been sent.
Geragos said in his opening statement that he plans to show that Wilkes was only doing business as it is normally done in Washington, not trading favors for contracts. He is set to begin calling witnesses on Thursday.