Another Chapter

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2007-04-02 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.


Another Chapter?

A week before Duke Cunningham was sentenced to prison, he told the court that a number of other lawmakers had also helped arrange funding for the defense contractors who bribed him, according to a report in the San Diego Union-Tribune and other media outlets. These include Reps. Katherine Harris of Florida, Virgil Goode of Virginia and John Doolittle from California. In court, Wade also admitted trying to curry favor with Harris and Goode, according to the Justice Department.

None of the three has since been charged with criminal wrongdoing. And all maintain they have done nothing wrong. However, some of their actions have caused concerns among government watchdogs such as attorney Stanley Zubel, who heads Californians for a Cleaner Government. On learning that Wilkes gave Doolittle $118,000 in legal campaign funds, and Doolittle in turn helped get Wilkes at least $37 million in business, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Zubel expressed concern about the relationship, especially since Doolittle's wife personally received at least $14,400 of these campaign funds. As Doolittle's campaign consultant, she receives a 15% commission on all contributions.

Neither Doolittle nor his spouse has commented on this matter.

In early 2005, Wade contacted Harris and, according to the Orlando Sentinel, took her to a $2,800 dinner at Citronelle, one of Washington's priciest restaurants. (Members of Congress are prohibited from accepting meals valued at more than $50.) As Florida's Secretary of State, you'll recall, Harris oversaw the recount that gave George Bush the White House. She had since become a rising star in the Republican Party, and by 2005 was preparing to make a run for the U.S. Senate.

Over dinner and the $800 bottles of Bordeaux that Wade favored, the MZM owner told Harris he'd back her with campaign contributions and even host and pay for a fund-raiser when the time came, according to the Orlando Sentinel. There was also talk that MZM would establish a facility in her district in Florida. In return, Wade wanted Harris to push through a $10 million appropriations request. Despite objections from former members of her congressional staff, who noted that MZM had missed the deadline for submitting, Harris instructed them to forward the request, they later told FBI and Defense Department investigators who were looking into the Wade allegations.

At this point, MZM money began pouring into Harris's campaign, some $50,000, making MZM her biggest contributor. Problem was that all but $12,000 of these funds were illegal, so-called straw contributions, the Justice Department charged as part of its investigation into MZM. In a March 4, 2005, meeting in MZM's office, Wade had given MZM employees cash, $2,000 each, which is the maximum contribution allowed from any one individual under federal law, according to the Justice Department. The employees in turn wrote checks for contributions of the same amount in their names or their spouse's. Wade then personally handed over the checks to Harris.

Wade allegedly did the same thing with Virgil Goode, giving him $90,000, says the Justice Department. In turn, Goode supported MZM's efforts to get contracts in Congress, and brought an MZM facility to Martinsville, W.Va., winning the company unusually generous financial perks, including $500,000 in state economic incentive grants, according to the Roanoke Times. Most of MZM's contributions to Goode, like those to Harris, Justice later found in the course of the MZM investigation, were illegal.

Harris and Goode claim they did not know that portions of MZM's funds were illegal. Both have strongly denied any wrongdoing. Harris has donated the cost of the dinner with Wade to charity.

Today, there are still a number of questions about the scandal, including Wade's enlistment of an unnamed Department of Defense official and Defense employees, "to knowingly conspire, confederate and agree … to defraud DOD," the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia charges.

At this juncture, however, it is unlikely that any further legal action will be taken. Just two days after she announced the indictment of Wilkes, U.S. Attorney Carol Lam, who oversaw the Cunningham probe, was fired, along with seven other U.S. attorneys, by the Justice Department. A number of her critics, including Rep. Darrell Issa, a Vista, Calif., Republican, said that Lam should have done more to pursue border crimes and focused less on white-collar malfeasance. Lam has declined all requests for interviews.

If Lam had been allowed to stay on, however, some government watchdogs believe further investigation would have been put on hold. "I think that even if Lam had remained as U.S. Attorney, the investigation would have reached a point where difficult questions about scope and resources would have had to have been addressed," says Scott Lilly. "[The] Justice Department is not likely to be rushing to ensure that the resources necessary to answer those questions will be forthcoming. In fact, Congressman Issa's insistence and the DOJ's apparent concurrence that more should be spent on illegal immigration and gun crimes has a clear corollary, that less be spent on public corruption. As a result, questions that might have been answered under the stewardship of one U.S. Attorney may go unanswered by a different U.S. Attorney."


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