The San Diego Union Tribune, without whom this would not have happened, is reporting that corrupt contractor Brent Wilkes was found guilty by a jury on 13 of 13 counts related to his bribery of imprisoned ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham. The story of Brent Wilkes is perhaps one of the more telling tales of political corruption for our time. Here is a man who set up a series of bogus companies, many which appeared to be nothing but a name with similar addresses, and received million dollar contracts for important work including the bottling of water for troops in
Out of all the congressional corruption scandals that have engulfed Washington since 2005 my personal favorite was and still is the Duke Cunningham bribery case. This scandal had it all, a bribery menu, a yacht named "Buoy Toy" illegally gifted to a member of Congress, quid pro quos of hookers for earmarks, and of course a cartoonishly corrupt contractor who liked to randomly yell "Boom shaka laka!" That contractor, Brent Wilkes, pled "not guilty" to the bribery charges that both his underling Mitchell Wade and the bribed Cunningham have admitted to, leading to the only trial in the sprawling corruption investigation. The trial has led to some terrific moments including testimony from the hookers hired by Wilkes for Cunningham and the ludicrous argument by the defense that all Wilkes was engaged in was aggressive lobbying. Now we get treated to this hilarious video of Wilkes and his team hosting Cunningham for a scuba diving trip. Wilkes is seen at the end doing his random shouting thing. Bali Hai!
The best places to follow the Cunningham case and the trial are TPM Muckraker, Seth Hettena's blog, and the San Diego Union Tribune. Hettena and the writers from the Union Tribune have both written their own books about Duke's corruption.Continue reading
The prosecution has rested in the trial of Brent Wilkes, the contractor on trial for bribing former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham. The last paragraph of this Washington Post story notes that Wilkes' defense will be that he was merely playing by the rules of the Congressional Favor Factory (now open 24 hours a day!):
[Wilkes' attorney Mark] 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.If that's the case, I will be just as eager to read about the defense's presentations as I was about the prosecution's, which included details of expensive meals and trips to distant vacations spots, including Hawaii. If Geragos is looking for examples to back up his claim, he might want to check the Center for Responsive Politics' travel database, available here, to see that members of Congress and their staff took more than 30 trips to Hawaii since July 2005 (when federal agents made headlines by raiding Cunningham's home), 137 trips to Las Vegas, 23 trips to Jamaica, and 48 trips to Aspen, to name a few. Continue reading
Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) admitted over the weekend that he contacted Attorney David Iglesias to talk to him about a political corruption case in New Mexico and also recommended his ouster to the Justice Department. In what appears to be a preemptive apology, as Iglesias will testify before the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow, Domenici told the Washington Post, "In retrospect, I regret making that call and I apologize." Domenici also claimed to have never pressured Iglesias over the result of the corruption case. When asked a few days prior to this weekend's apologia Domenici simply stated, " I have no idea what he's talking about." As Joe Monahan, a local New Mexico blogger wrote, "That apology by NM GOP U.S. Senator Pete Domenici was like a fig leaf that covered the most vital parts, but left plenty of skin exposed for Democratic marksmen if they choose to continue the hunt."Continue reading
Back at the beginning of the year the Justice Department announced that it was replacing seven U.S. Attorneys in an unprecedented move. The Attorney ‘purge’ was able to take place due to a provision allowing the Justice Department to unilaterally replace U.S. Attorneys for any reason that was snuck into the PATRIOT Act reauthorization by Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA). McClatchy Newspapers reports today that one of those Attorneys, David Iglesias, U.S. Attorney from New Mexico, was pressured by Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) and Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) to bring down indictments on local Democratic officials prior to the 2006 midterm election. Iglesias refused and has since been purged by the Justice Department. If Wilson and Domenici did attempt to pressure a sitting U.S. Attorney for the political benefit of the oft-endangered Wilson it would be a serious ethical violation.Continue reading
Vanity Fair reports on the ongoing Cunningham investigation and where it will go next. The article notes that Cunningham was seeking bribes days before he pled guilty; Brent Wilkes, the defense contractor at the center of the investigation, made connections in Washington by introducing congressmen to women in Honduras; Bill Lowery, the former congressman and current lobbyist embroiled in the scandal, introduced Cunningham to Wilkes. So who goes next in the investigation: Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, [sw: Katherine Harris] (R-Fla.), Wilkes, Lowery, or Rep. [sw: Virgil Goode] (R-Va.)?Continue reading
- The print media in Illinois continues to run with [sw: Dennis Hastert]'s land deal, a story that Bill Allison started here at Sunlight. The Chicago Tribune ran a big article over the weekend that included denials of wrongdoing by Hastert and his partners that centered around the incorrect distance of 5.5 miles from the proposed freeway to the land (maps show that the distance is between 2.5 and 3 miles, a distance that Hastert's partner Dallas Ingemunson confirms). The key point in the Trib article comes towards the end where we learn that Hastert has purchased 126 acres in Kendall County with the same business partners. Looks like he intends on receiving continued profits from the federal projects that he is pushing.
- At least 90 former Homeland Security officials from DHS and the White House's Office of Homeland Security left their government jobs to earn millions as lobbyists, executives, and consultants for companies seeking funds from these agencies, according to the New York Times.
- The Department of Homeland Security found the missing letter that [sw: Duke Cunningham] sent to urge the issuance of a contract to Shirlington Limousines. Defense contractor Mitchell Wade's plea agreement contained allegations that Shirlington was hired by Brent Wilkes, alleged Cunningham briber, to ferry prostitutes to the now jailed congressman as payment for his earmarking services. A grand jury is investigating Shirlington's connections to the Cunningham case and their government contracts.
- The lobbying firm at the center of the ethics cloud surrounding Appropriations Chairman [sw: Jerry Lewis] (R-CA) is breaking up, according to the San Bernardino Sun. The two Democrats who are partners at the firm are bolting due to the investigations into two of the three Republican partners. No more shall we refer to the firm as Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White. The firm will now be referred to as Lowery Denton & White. Soon it will probably be called Denton.
- Yesterday the House Homeland Security Committee held hearings on a contract that was awarded to Shirlington Limousine, the limo service allegedly used to ferry prostitutes to [sw: Duke Cunningham] and others, and discoverd that Cunningham had pressed the Department of Homeland Security to ink a contract with the company and that Shirlington had offered its services to DHS prior to receiving a contract. Homeland Security states that they can not find the letter of recommendation from Cunningham. Paul Kiel at TPM Muckraker reports that a grand jury is looking into Shirlington's DHS contract. Ken Silverstein connects the multiple appropriations scandals in one sentance: "Recall also that Jerome Foster, one of the company's directors, is another defense contractor who was represented by the same lobby shop as Brent Wilkes—the firm of former congressman Bill Lowery (who, coincidentally, is very close to Congressman Jerry Lewis, currently under federal investigation, )."
- The Democratic caucus voted 99-58 to strip Rep. [sw: William Jefferson] (D-Lou.) of his seat on the Ways and Means Committee, a move prompted by revelations that he allegedly solicited bribes in a wide-ranging conspiracy to use his position in Congress to illegally broker deals with African countries. The "no" votes were comprised primarily of the Congressional Black Caucus with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus joining to vote against the Minority Leader's push to remove Jefferson. Minority Leader [sw: Nancy Pelosi] (D-Calif.) stated: "This isn't about proof in a court of law. It's about an ethical standard ... what is acceptable public behavior for a public servant."
- The City of Redlands, California is considering dropping Copeland Lowery as their lobbying firm after having their records subpoenaed in the federal investigation into the practices of the lobbying firm and the practices of Appropriations Chairman [sw: Jerry Lewis] (R-Calif.). Meanwhile, the City of San Bernardino is mum on whether they have been served a subpoena in the investigation. So far, eight subpoenas have been confirmed by cities, municipalities, and a university.
- Rep. [sw: William Jefferson] (D-LA) secured a $100,000 bribe for the Vice President of Nigeria to get leverage in dealing with the Nigerian state phone company, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Jefferson received the $100,000 from Lori Mody, the woman who wound up turning on the congressman, and promptly hid $90,000 in his freezer while telling Mody that he had given the money to the Vice President. The money was recovered in an FBI raid of Jefferson's house. The big question here is whether Jefferson was ripping off Mody and is that why she decided to turn him in?
- All eyes are on the congressional race to fill [sw: Duke Cunningham]'s (R-CA) House seat. Cunningham resigned last year and subsequently pled guilty to accepting bribes and was sentenced to 8 years and 8 months in prison.
- Another big race will test how Abramoff-related charges are affecting the image of Sen. [sw: Conrad Burns] (R-MT) as he faces a state Sen. Bob Keenan in the Montana Senate Republican primary.
- The Associated Press rewards bad journalism.
- Closing arguments in the David Safavian case will be held next Monday, according to the Associated Press.
- And finally, House Minority Whip [sw: Steny Hoyer] (D-MD) asserted that Jefferson should step down from the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. When asked why he gave this reason, "I think the reason is because he sits on a tax-writing committee and he had $90,000 found in his freezer ... I think he's got a tax problem, if nothing else." (CongressDailyPM)
In Washington people are always dealing in information, money, and secrets. Sometimes you need to peddle information to get a seat at the table or to help write bills for your lobbying clients. Other times you need to throw money around, ingratiate yourself with the locals and take them out to a skybox and watch Gilbert Arenas score 40 points. Throw a fund raiser for your favorite legislator (i.e.: the guy who's vote you need to switch). How else are you going to stop that bill that would help millions of people but hurt your client? Usually you tout these accomplishments and get patted on the back. But sometimes, you do something that you don't want anyone to know about and you need to hide your information, or your money, somewhere. Anywhere. Where do you hide it? Well, we gathered up a group of Washington insiders with first hand experience in hiding stuff and asked them how they would go about hiding money or information in Washington (follow the link):