Contractor Convicted in Cunningham Case

The Associated Press
Tuesday, November 6, 2007; 2:57 AM

SAN DIEGO -- When Brent Wilkes was indicted on charges of bribing former Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham with cash, trips and meals, the defense contractor responded by sending reporters a statement insisting he was innocent and would prevail in court.

"I guarantee you, I will be vindicated," he wrote.

On Monday, moments after jurors returned their guilty verdict against Wilkes, the contractor's lawyer said again that his client wasn't done fighting.

"This thing is fatally flawed," said Mark Geragos outside the courthouse.

Geragos pledged to appeal the jury's finding that Wilkes was guilty on 13 counts of conspiracy, bribery, money laundering and wire fraud in the only trial to emerge so far from one of the biggest corruption scandals ever in Congress. The individual counts carry maximum prison sentences ranging from 5 years to 20 years.

Wilkes, 53, wearing a dark gray suit, sat stone faced and then shook his head slightly as jurors returned the verdict.

He left the courthouse without commenting to reporters. Geragos said he and Wilkes were shocked.

"I don't believe this case was proved beyond a reasonable doubt," Geragos said. "Obviously I'm very disappointed. I think he shares the confidence that we'll get it reversed."

Prosecutors contended that Wilkes lavished Cunningham with more than $700,000 in perks _ everything from illicit cash payments to submachine gun shooting lessons and the services of prostitutes while Cunningham stayed at a Hawaiian resort.

In return, Cunningham helped Wilkes secure nearly $90 million in Pentagon contracts, mainly for scanning paper documents, prosecutors said.

"This case demonstrates our firm commitment that those who bribe federal officials shall face criminal consequences for their wrongdoing," said Karen Hewitt, the U.S. attorney in San Diego.

Wilkes has steadfastly maintained his innocence since being charged in February. In eight hours on the witness stand, he testified that his transactions with Cunningham were legitimate and flatly denied bribing him or any other lawmakers.

He blamed wrongdoing on others, particularly his former employee Mitch Wade, who in 2006 admitted giving Cunningham more than $1 million in kickbacks for about $150 million in government contracts.

Cunningham, an eight-term Republican, pleaded guilty in 2005 to accepting $2.4 million in bribes from Wilkes and others _ including antiques, boats, a used Rolls Royce and cash to pay the mortgage on his mansion.

The former lawmaker, now 65 and suffering from prostate cancer, is serving a 100-month federal prison sentence. Neither side called him to testify in the case.

The jury forewoman, in brief comments to reporters on her way out of courthouse, said jurors were disappointed not to hear from Cunningham.

"It would have been nice to hear his perspective on what happened, seeing that he's at the center of all this," Tyheshia Smith Kruck said.

Jurors spent less than four full days deliberating before they returned their verdict.

U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns set a Jan. 28 date for sentencing and warned Wilkes that he usually remands convicts directly to prison custody.

"Have your affairs in order," Burns said.

Geragos told the judge he intends to appeal on grounds that grand jury secrets were deliberately and illegally disclosed to the news media before Wilkes was indicted in February. He said he intends to subpoena at least two reporters to determine whether leaks came from the prosecution team.

In earlier court filings, Geragos included stories by The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal, and quoted from North County Times stories.

Burns set a Dec. 11 hearing on the matter, but warned Geragos that his prospects for getting the verdict dismissed on that basis alone were slim. An investigation earlier this year by the U.S. attorney in Sacramento found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Attorneys representing Wilkes in a separate federal case said they may ask for him to remain free after sentencing to prepare for trial.

In that case, Wilkes is charged with offering former CIA executive director Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, a childhood friend, a job and treating him to luxurious golf vacations in return for help getting contracts from the supply agency.

Wilkes' lawyers have said their client was simply being generous to an old friend. Both men have pleaded not guilty to 30 counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering.

No trial date has been set.

© 2007 The Associated Press