Contractor says he wanted to avoid upsetting congressman
October 30, 2007
SAN DIEGO (AP) ” A defense contractor testified Tuesday that he never asked former U.S. Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham to return $100,000 toward his stay on a river yacht because the contractor didn’t want to upset the lawmaker.
Prosecutors claim that Brent Wilkes, 53, never tried to get the money back because the cash was a bribe.
“You did him a favor you didn’t have to do ” you let him stay on the boat,” said Phillip Halpern, a government lawyer.
Wilkes told jurors repeatedly in three hours of cross-examination that he wanted to keep Cunningham on his side, but said other congressman were more critical to securing nearly $90 million in Pentagon contracts for his document-digitization business. Those included former Appropriations Committee chair Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, and former committee member John Doolittle, R-Rocklin.
During his testimony last Friday, Wilkes denied bribing Cunningham or any other members of Congress. On Tuesday, Wilkes again rejected the suggestion that he decided it was better for business to keep giving lawmaker meals, vacations and cash than to play by House rules on gifts and payments between contractors and congressmen.
The defense contractor did, however, admit that he never asked any of his lawyers or accountants to recoup the boat payments from Cunningham.
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“The consensus advice was that it was better not to pursue it,” Wilkes said.
Prosecutors also quizzed Wilkes about why he wired $525,000 to a New York mortgage firm, allegedly as a short-term investment, without asking for due diligence assessments, a formal prospectus or account statements. Wilkes explained that he received adequate assurances about the investment over the phone.
In his earlier testimony, Wilkes said he had no idea until he read in the papers that the money was eventually used to cover Cunningham’s mortgage on a $2.5 million mansion in Rancho Santa Fe.
The contractor also insisted that he never he hired prostitutes for himself or the congressman, telling jurors that his nephew, an employee, had hired masseuses on a trip to Hawaii.
On Friday, Wilkes said that he had not recognized the two escorts who testified earlier that they had been paid to join the men in the hot tub of their private bungalow at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel in August 2003. One of the women said she went upstairs and had sex with a man she identified as Cunningham after he fed her grapes while she sat naked in the tub.
Cunningham pleaded guilty in 2005 to accepting $2.4 million in cash payments, jet flights, vacations and meals from Wilkes and another defense contractor in return for obtaining hundreds of millions in government contracts. The former Navy ace and lawmaker is housed in a prison cell across the street from San Diego’s downtown federal courthouse serving a 100-month sentence.
Wilkes has pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of conspiracy, bribery and fraud. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.