News and articles relating to the scandal surrounding Washington D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff

Friday, December 09, 2005 - Politics - Contractors in Cunningham Probe Supported Other Lawmakers

WASHINGTON ? Two defense contractors at the center of ex-Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham's bribery case also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to curry favor with other influential lawmakers, records show.

One contractor, Brent Wilkes, provided private jet flights to lawmakers, including Reps. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who is serving as majority leader while DeLay fights money-laundering charges in Texas.

Wilkes also raised at least $100,000 for President Bush's 2004 re-election bid and donated more than $70,000 to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appointed him to two state boards.

There's no indication that these donations were improper. Prosecutors have not suggested that the investigation that snared Cunningham, R-Calif. ? who resigned last week after pleading guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes ? involves other lawmakers.

Wilkes and defense contractor Mitchell Wade, along with their families and companies, donated generously to dozens of political campaigns ? mostly Republican ? beginning in the 1990s. Among the top beneficiaries, according to an AP analysis of records from PoliticalMoneyLine, which tracks campaign spending, were:

?DeLay, who got $70,000 from Wilkes and his associates.

?House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who got $46,000 from Wilkes, Wade and their associates.

?House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., who got about $50,000 from Wilkes, Wade and their associates.

?Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., a member of the House Appropriations Committee, who got about $46,000 from Wilkes and his associates.

The contractors' political activity came as they landed valuable government contracts, drawing the attention of campaign finance watchdog groups.

"There's no question that both Wilkes and Wade were expert at greasing the wheels of the legislative machine," said Keith Ashdown, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. "They knew who and when to give money to, and it really gave them free rein over taxpayer-funded defense contractors."

The list of lawmakers who took money also includes Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Fla.; Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Va.; Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-Va., top Democrat on the House Ethics Committee; House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich.; and Sen. Larry Craig, R-Wyo.

Hunter, Lewis, Harris and Hoekstra have donated the money to charity, or plan to. Craig, Mollohan, DeLay and Doolittle have said they will hang on to it. As of Thursday, Goode had not decided, an aide said.

"I just think it was the appropriate thing to do," said Hunter, who is giving the money to help injured Marines. He also released two letters Thursday that he sent Pentagon officials in 1997 and 2000 urging them to use their judgment on pursuing projects to convert paper documents to digital form ? the specialty of Wilkes' company ADCS Inc., which has its headquarters in Hunter's San Diego-area district.

Published reports have said Cunningham and Hunter promoted such programs in the face of Pentagon opposition.

Neither Wilkes nor Wade is named in Cunningham's plea deal, in which he admits taking cash and gifts including antiques and a Rolls-Royce.

The plea mentions four unnamed coconspirators, who have not been charged. Details make clear that coconspirator .2 is Wade; Wilkes' lawyer, Michael Lipman, has confirmed that Wilkes is coconspirator .1.

Wade's lawyer declined comment Thursday; a message left with Lipman was not immediately returned.

Wilkes and his wife and companies donated heavily to Schwarzenegger; the governor subsequently appointed him to a state fair board and a board that oversees racetrack issues. Wilkes resigned those positions last week at the suggestion of Schwarzenegger's office.

Wilkes' donations to DeLay included $15,000 from one of his companies to Texans for a Republican Majority, the state committee whose spending is at issue in DeLay's criminal case. Wilkes' company also hired Alexander Strategies, a consulting firm that employed DeLay's wife, Christine.

Wilkes' private jet company, Group W Transportation, provided flights to DeLay three times and Blunt twice. In each case the lawmakers reimbursed Group W as required, records show.

Sometimes donations from Wade or Wilkes came around the same time their companies were getting contracts or lawmakers were passing favorable legislation.

Wade's company, MZM, got a five-year blanket purchase agreement contract from the General Services Administration that went into effect May 13, 2002. On May 15, 2002, MZM donated $1,000 to Cunningham.

Wilkes and his associates increased their political donations to the tens-of-thousands-per-year level about 1996. In 1996, 1997 and 1998 lawmakers earmarked money for document conversion programs even though none was requested in the president's budget, and ADCS got a major contract to digitize documents in the Panama Canal Zone around the time of the canal handover in 1999. Abramoff's Secrets, Claims on Lawmakers May Start Emerging Soon

Dec. 9 (Bloomberg) -- For years, lobbyist Jack Abramoff wined and dined U.S. lawmakers, spreading donations and earning good will. Now, facing bribery accusations, he may be ready to share his Capitol Hill confidences with Justice Department investigators.

``The prosecutors are talking to Abramoff's lawyers because they want to get his cooperation in the prosecution of members of Congress, I'm sure,'' said John Kotelly, who prosecuted one of six congressmen convicted in the Abscam political corruption case in the 1980s. The question is what Abramoff has to offer and how much U.S. attorneys might give up in terms of jail time, he said. ``It's going to be kind of a dance between the two.''

Abramoff will have to implicate a high-ranking political figure to win any significant reduction in a potential prison sentence, former prosecutors said. His connections extend throughout Congress, including to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who once called Abramoff ``one of my closest and dearest friends.'' DeLay cut off contact with Abramoff and denied wrongdoing after a report that he improperly accepted travel from the lobbyist.

Abramoff's former partner, one-time DeLay aide Michael Scanlon, pleaded guilty on Nov. 21 to conspiring to corrupt public officials and defraud clients out of millions of dollars. Scanlon, 35, is cooperating with investigators, and former prosecutors such as Kotelly say that Abramoff, 46, is probably considering doing the same.

Trial Date

The pressure may be mounting as Abramoff faces a Jan. 9 trial date on a separate set of fraud charges connected to a business deal in Florida. Agreeing to cooperate with the Justice Department in the Washington case might allow him to resolve the Florida charges as well.

Abramoff's co-defendant in Florida, Adam Kidan, may plead guilty next week after the judge in the case scheduled a change- of-plea hearing for Dec. 15. That may also increase the likelihood of a deal with Abramoff.

Justice Department spokesman Paul Bresson declined comment. Abramoff representative Andrew Blum, who speaks on behalf of the lobbyist's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, also declined to respond.

The case has already caused political fallout. Democrats are using the links between Abramoff and lawmakers such as DeLay, 58, as a basis for charges that Republicans have created a ``culture of corruption.''

Overcharging Tribes

Abramoff and Scanlon overcharged casino-owning Indian-tribe clients and split tens of millions of dollars in profits, according to e-mails and documents released by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Scanlon's plea agreement mentions attempts to influence lawmakers through gifts and trips such as an outing to Scotland with ``Representative No. 1,'' identified by lawyers in the case as Ohio Republican Robert Ney.

``He knows a lot of people,'' said Greg Wallance, an attorney at New York law firm Kaye Scholer LLP and a former prosecutor who also worked on Abscam. ``That's what's got everybody in a tizzy.''

Representative Richard Pombo, a California Republican who received $7,000 in donations from Abramoff after becoming chairman of the House Resources Committee, says lawmakers shouldn't have anything to fear if they received lawful contributions.

``I don't think it's really that big of a problem,'' Pombo said. ``Everybody's going to try to distance themselves.''

Under Wraps

Because the Justice Department has kept its investigation under wraps, little is known about what Abramoff might have to offer on government officials. And prosecutors are probably going to insist on significant jail time for Abramoff, complicating any potential negotiations, Wallance said.

``If he can't provide serious assistance in prosecuting other government officials, then the government is not going to give him as big a discount'' on his sentence, Wallance said. ``He's going to have to come forward with something really good to get a big `home soon' or `never having to leave' discount.''

Wallance and other former prosecutors said it's too soon to say how the Abramoff case might stack up in the annals of public corruption cases. Only if a number of lawmakers are ultimately convicted will it compare with Abscam, they said.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the FBI set up a fake company called ``Abdul Enterprises.'' Agents posing as Middle Eastern businessmen then offered money to officials for political favors. Their videotaped conversations led to the convictions of the six congressmen, a senator and other public officials including the mayor of Camden, New Jersey. Kotelly prosecuted Representative John Jenrette, a South Carolina Democrat.

Overt Offers

The question in the Abramoff case is whether there were any overt offers or demands, said Kotelly, now a partner at Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky LLP in Washington. It's very hard to prosecute lawmakers for alleged quid-pro-quo actions, he said.

``Most of the politicians are smart enough to know that you don't promise to do something in return for money,'' Kotelly said. Then again, he said, ``Abscam proved me wrong.''

Prosecutors and defense attorneys often start out talking in hypothetical terms. For instance, a prosecutor might say he'd be willing to shorten jail time only if the person involved could implicate a high-level government official.

The kinds of talks occurring between Abramoff's lawyers and the U.S. attorney's offices at this point ``could be everything from just total silent stare-down hostility to a pretty active conversation, and maybe an attempt to resolve this even with some kind of plea,'' said John Q. Barrett, a former prosecutor in the Iran-Contra case who teaches law at St. John's University in New York.


``It turns on chemistry, or lack thereof, that's developed in the investigation between the prosecutors and lawyers,'' Barrett said.

Abramoff may be unwilling to cooperate. Or prosecutors may find that he has nothing solid enough to offer to make a reduction in jail time worthwhile, lawyers said.

By now, Abramoff may be a big enough catch himself, Wallance said.

``He's a primary target,'' he said. ``The prosecutor makes a name for himself just by convicting Abramoff.''


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