WASHINGTON – In two
days of prison interviews with federal agents this year,
former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham described a level of
corruption on his part more extensive than previously
known and dealt a potentially devastating blow to the
defense being waged by one of the contractors alleged to
have bribed him.
The interviews were conducted in February at the
federal prison near Tucson, where the longtime Republican
congressman from Rancho Santa Fe is serving an eight-year,
four-month sentence after admitting to accepting more than
$2.4 million in bribes. He pleaded guilty to charges of
conspiracy and tax evasion.
According to an 11-page FBI summary of the sessions,
obtained by Copley News Service, Cunningham was very much
the initiator of his corrupt actions, demanding bribes,
accepting envelopes with cash and displaying an insatiable
appetite for more money, more cars, more drink, more fine
food and more expensive goods.
Cunningham's answers are bad news for Brent Wilkes,
president of Poway-based ADCS Inc., who is fighting
bribery charges. They set the stage for what could be a
dramatic courtroom showdown between Cunningham and his
Wilkes faces 30 counts in two indictments, including
charges that he gave Cunningham $600,000 in gifts and cash
in exchange for Cunningham's help in getting more than $80
million in defense contracts. Wilkes' two trials are
expected to occur this fall. The government has not said
whether it will bring Cunningham to San Diego to testify.
Cunningham was able to promote defense contracts for
favored companies through the use of legislative
“earmarks,” provisions lawmakers could slip anonymously
into spending bills without debate, discussion or
disclosure that benefit interests in their districts or
their supporters. Wilkes has said a $100,000 payment he
made to Cunningham in 2000 was not a bribe, but instead
was to buy Cunningham's river yacht, the Kelly C.
“Cunningham said that there was never a sale,” said the
FBI report. “Cunningham stated that he and Wilkes created
the cover story of a boat sale to explain, if anyone ever
found out and asked, his receipt of $100,000 from Wilkes.”
Cunningham told investigators that Wilkes fully
understood there would be “no actual change in ownership”
of the yacht. The two men agreed to divide the $100,000
into two checks because both “felt that the smaller checks
might be less noticeable.”
The documents show that Cunningham had first asked
Wilkes for $550,000.
“Wilkes said no to the $550,000 but then countered with
an offer of $100,000 if Cunningham would ensure that the
support and earmarks would continue to happen. Cunningham
promised Wilkes that he would 'fight like hell' for
The FBI report made the point that Cunningham was clear
about the quid pro quo:
“Cunningham stated that, by 2000, he had already been
receiving numerous benefits from Wilkes that included such
things as vacation trips, liquor, cash/maintenance money.
. . . According to Cunningham, in return for these
benefits, he had been helping Wilkes/ADCS in their efforts
to secure government contracts.”
Phone messages for comment left at Wilkes' attorneys'
offices last night were not returned.
Cunningham's admissions are very much at odds with the
image that he tried to create after his downfall. In a
letter made public and in private statements to friends,
he portrayed himself as someone unable to withstand the
blandishments of corrupt contractors and someone who
merely accepted “gifts” but never sold his office.
His admissions to the investigators – who were from the
FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Attorney's
Office and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service –
also shed light on the actions of others implicated in the
They include Mitchell Wade, president of MZM Inc. in
Washington, who pleaded guilty in the case but has not
been sentenced, and Thomas Kontogiannis, a New York
developer accused of laundering the bribe money.
Kontogiannis pleaded guilty to providing $1.1 million
in mortgages to Cunningham for a Rancho Santa Fe mansion,
even though he knew the house was bought with proceeds
from illegal activity. The plea was made in February but
was not made public until last month.
According to the FBI summary, Cunningham admits to
being provided with prostitutes, misleading congressional
ethics officials, making others buy gifts for his
daughters, personally devising the schemes to launder his
bribes, lying to his staff and putting unrelenting
pressure on government officials who thought the defense
contracts he pushed with congressional earmarks were
Cunningham was well-placed to steer military
intelligence contracts to Wilkes and Wade because he was
on the House defense appropriations subcommittee and the
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
He also told investigators he demanded regular cash
payments – he called them “maintenance money” – once even
summoning one of his bribers to his Capitol office to give
him $3,000 in cash.
In addition to the FBI summary of the prison interviews
with Cunningham, Copley News Service obtained a 76-page
affidavit filed by the FBI in support of a search warrant
in the case. It provides glimpses of what investigators
found as they built their case against Cunningham and
those suspected of conspiring with him.
The FBI stated that:
More than $1 million in bribes
was laundered by being sent to Kontogiannis instead of
going directly to Cunningham. Investigators identified at
least 70 bank accounts maintained by Kontogiannis at one
Despite his many businesses,
Kontogiannis has not filed a tax return since 2001.
For the first time,
investigators shed light on what Kontogiannis expected to
get from Cunningham – help on a potential sale of fighter
jets to his native Greece.
The Rolls-Royce that drew so
much attention early in the investigation was not the only
car that Cunningham made the contractors buy for him. In
only two days in early 2002, the congressman bought a
$43,000 Thunderbird and a $41,000 BMW from Bob Baker Ford
in San Diego with $63,000 of his payment coming from
bribes. That was three months before Wade gave him $10,000
toward the used Rolls-Royce.
In mid-2004, when Cunningham
needed to make repairs to his boat, he called Wade and
demanded $6,500 in cash. Wade took the money out of his
petty cash, stuffed it into a bulging envelope and rushed
it over to a Cunningham fundraiser at a Washington
restaurant, giving it to a Cunningham staffer.
In his prison interviews with investigators, as
summarized by the FBI, the former congressman is reported
Openly “recalled exerting
pressure on government officials” to reward his bribers.
Said Wilkes told him he was
“hiding money in a bank account in Panama” to pay him
Spoke of having had to find
ways to get around objections from Sen. Richard Shelby,
R-Ala., and Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, both of whom
tried to block Cunningham's spending projects for Wade and
Wilkes as wasteful and unneeded.