Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Bigger Fish to Fry Than Duke

The overlooked security implications of the Cunningham scandal.

American prospect: ....In law enforcement, the standard procedure is for prosecutors to haul in the little fish first in order to net the big fish later. So there was something peculiar about the Cunningham case, where such normal logic had seemingly been turned on its head. Here the big fish -- a ranking Representative -- had pled guilty before the businessmen from whom he had admitted taking bribes. What the Time report suggests was that Cunningham might not be the biggest fish in this case after all.

The Cunningham case has revealed several lawmakers worthy of investigative scrutiny. Two men described but not named as co-conspirators in the original indictment -- Brent Wilkes, the chairman of San Diego-based defense contractor ADCS Inc., and Mitchell J. Wade, the founder and until recently chairman and president of defense and intelligence contractor MZM Inc. -- donated “more than a million dollars in the last ten years to a roster of politicians,” including contributions from their employees and company political action committees (PACs), according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In some instances, those donations seemed to track closely with appropriations recommendations from politicians that benefited Wilkes’ and Wade’s companies.

Among the pols of potential interest to investigators is Representative Tom DeLay, whose Texans for a Republican Majority fund-raising committee received a $15,000 donation in September 2002 from Perfect Wave Technologies, a subsidiary of Wilkes’ corporate umbrella, the Wilkes Corporation. Through another Wilkes’ subsidiary, Perfect Wave also hired a lobbying firm, Alexander Strategy Group, set up by DeLay’s former Chief of Staff Ed Buckham, and which employed DeLay’s wife Christine, to lobby successfully for Perfect Wave to receive a Navy contract. In December, the Austin, Texas, District Attorney Ronnie Earle -- already pursuing a campaign-finance case against DeLay -- subpoenaed documents from Wilkes, Perfect Wave Technologies, ADCS, and associated companies. Popping up again on the radar as well is Congressman Bob Ney, the Ohio Republican who, like DeLay, is simultaneously under investigation in the rapidly expanding Indian gaming case that has led to guilty pleas by lobbyist Jack Abramoff and PR Executive Michael Scanlon. On October 1, 2002, Ney inexplicably entered praise of a San Diego-based charity headed by Wilkes, the Tribute to Heroes Foundation, into the Congressional Record -- the same kind of service Ney performed for his benefactor Abramoff on more than one occasion....

A close reading of the 33-page Cunningham plea agreement raises troubling questions about the relationships that connect Wilkes, Wade, Kontogiannis, and those whom the Cunningham plea agreement describes as “others.” The indictment describes multiple instances when Wilkes and Wade used companies owned by Kontogiannis and his wife’s nephew essentially as the banking vehicles to launder bribes to Cunningham through the purchase of real estate, boats, and other valuables. In other words, Wilkes and Wade would seem to have had some degree of knowledge of Kontogiannis being central to the corruption scheme. While we know how companies belonging to Wilkes and Wade benefited from their bribes to Cunningham -- with a few hundred million dollars in sensitive U.S. government contracts -- it is still opaque what precisely Kontogiannis got out of the Cunningham arrangement. One is left to wonder what other interests Kontogiannis may have been representing, interests which could have benefited from his favors to Cunningham in ways that have not yet been revealed.

In short, who is investigating the counterintelligence implications of this case to protect against potential breaches of U.S. national security?

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