- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 8, 2006

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The prosecutors who sent former U.S. Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham to prison for taking bribes now are focusing their attention on his friend Brent Wilkes, a San Diego defense contractor who won nearly $100 million in contracts in the past decade.

Mr. Wilkes also has links to other corruption investigations.

Cunningham was sentenced in March to more than eight years in prison after pleading guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes — including payments for a 7,628-square-foot mansion, a Rolls-Royce and a 65-foot yacht — in return for funneling contracts to certain companies.

Mr. Wilkes’ attorneys have confirmed he is the unidentified “Co-Conspirator No. 1” in Cunningham’s plea agreement. Prosecutors won’t comment on their investigation but purport he paid Cunningham more than $600,000 to win government contracts.

No one else has been indicted in the Cunningham case. However, a grand jury is meeting regularly and is focusing on Mr. Wilkes, according to two attorneys close to the investigation. The attorneys spoke on the condition of anonymity because grand jury proceedings are secret.

A second co-conspirator in Cunningham’s plea agreement, Mitchell Wade, is cooperating with prosecutors after pleading guilty in February to bribing Cunningham in exchange for more than $150 million in government contracts since 2002.

Bringing a public corruption case is not easy, says Randall Eliason, former head of the public corruption section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington.

“There’s a lot of stuff that goes on that’s sleazy and unethical that does not rise to the level of a crime,” he said. “The key is always an expressed deal, where someone says, ‘I give you this and you do that for me.’ ”

Mr. Wilkes, 52, has not spoken publicly since his name surfaced in the investigation last year. Attempts to reach him were unsuccessful. Through his attorneys, Michael Lipman and Nancy Luque, he has denied any wrongdoing.

Public corruption has become a major campaign issue this election year, and Mr. Wilkes has been connected to several of the investigations.

He has been subpoenaed in the Texas case against former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. He gave money to Rep. John T. Doolittle, California Republican, who has acknowledged helping Mr. Wilkes win contracts and whose name has surfaced in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

Mr. Wilkes is a childhood friend of Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, the former high-ranking CIA official whose home and office were raided by FBI agents in May as part of the Cunningham investigation. Mr. Foggo left his job after disclosures that he participated in poker games organized by Mr. Wilkes. FBI officials also have been investigating whether Mr. Wilkes provided prostitutes for the parties.

Last week, the California Fair Political Practices Commission released a complaint purporting Mr. Wilkes tried to circumvent rules on campaign contributions by reimbursing two persons, including one of his own employees, for donations to a San Diego mayoral candidate in 2000.

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