Enter Mitchell Wade

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2007-04-02 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A year after U.S. Congressman Randall "Duke" Cunningham was sentenced to prison in one the biggest federal information-technology scandals ever, details about the case continue to emerge.



Enter Mitchell Wade

Even though it was relatively late getting on the gravy train, MZM, a high-tech national security outfit headed up by Mitchell Wade, did even better. It collected in excess of $163 million between 2002 and 2005, thanks largely to Cunningham and other political leaders Wade supported.

MZM was a small-time Pentagon consulting firm in 2002 when Cunningham began using his considerable clout on its behalf. By 2005, the publication Washington Technology ranked MZM among the top 100 Federal Prime Contractors by revenue. The company listed its revenue as $66,181,872, but declined to list its major customers or projects, which were classified.

Shortly after Sept. 11, MZM began to experience an influx of government contracts, the Justice Department charges. It expanded its counter-intelligence and national security efforts and opened a computer center in Charlottesville, Va., to develop classified engineering intelligence in a digital mapping and architecture analysis system for the Pentagon. In September 2003, MZM and 16 other contractors received a five-year, $252 million contract to provide engineering and information warfare services to the Air Force. It was brought in to work at the NGIC, the Army support facility; and Global Infrastructure Data Capture, a program to convert government documents into a digital format.

Some of these contracts were highly sensitive and critical in protecting the country in the post-Sept. 11 world. As an example, MZM participated in a top-secret program created in 2002 by the Pentagon called Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), according to Knight Ridder. Its mission is to develop and manage Defense Department counter-intelligence programs and functions that support the protection of the department, including counter-intelligence support to protect Defense personnel, resources, critical information, R&D programs, technology, critical infrastructure, economic security and U.S. interests against foreign influence.

Despite a seeming lack of experience in counter-intelligence work, MZM got a piece of this program early on. Business was booming. Mitchell Wade told the Richmond Times Dispatch that the company was projecting a 35% growth rate from 2003 and planned to hire 230 new employees over the next few years.

In large part, MZM's surging revenue had to do with Duke Cunningham. The government believes that Cunningham began taking bribes from both Wilkes and Wade as early as 2000, but in the wake of the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, these payments accelerated, according to charges filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In some instances, these bribes came in the form of rare antiques — three nightstands, one leaded-glass cabinet and four armoires for which Wade paid $12,000 and had delivered. Though the "top-gun" former fighter pilot didn't seem the type to collect antiques, Wade spent another $14,000 on a Louis Philippe commode, circa 1850, and a Restoration period commode plus a sleigh bed in early 2002.

Beginning in April 2002, the Justice Department charges, Wade upped the stakes significantly, buying Cunningham a vintage Rolls-Royce for $13,500 (unfortunately for Wade, the car proved a lemon and he had to shell out another $17,889.96 to have it repaired), and a yacht for $140,000 called the "Buoy Toy." When Cunningham wanted to unload his house in Del Mar, Calif., in November 2003, Wade purchased it for just under $1.7 million. Eight months later, Wade sold the place, taking a $700,000 loss. Soon after, he sent an additional payoff, a check to Cunningham's company, Top Gun Enterprises, which sold memorabilia from Duke's heroic piloting days, for $115,000. In May 2004, Wade even shelled out $2,081.30, using his corporate American Express card, according to the Justice Department, to pay for Cunningham's daughter's graduation party at a Washington hotel. The money kept on flowing while the funds went unreported to the government or the IRS, and were often laundered through shell companies including Top Gun Enterprises.

For Wade and Wilkes, who partnered on several Pentagon defense contracts, the government charges, the ROI on their investments was substantial. At one point during one of their extended lunches, Cunningham wanted to remind Wade of his worth. He produced a napkin and in one column jotted down the ten of thousands in bribes Wade had given him. On the other side, Cunningham listed the tens of millions in contracts he'd helped MZM win, the Justice Department charges. He made his point.

The government charges that Cunningham made recommendations and took other action to "influence the Congress's appropriations of funds to benefit Wade, other co-conspirators and MZM." It also charges that Cunningham "used his public office and took other official action to pressure and influence Department of Defense personnel to award and execute government contracts in a manner that would benefit Wade, other co-conspirators and MZM." Cunningham acted, the Department of Justice charges, because of the payments and benefits he received, and "not because Cunningham believed that using MZM was in the best interest of the country."

Next page: Busted



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