Ex-Rep. Cunningham Gives Bribery Details

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2005

SAN DIEGO – Disgraced former U.S. Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham lied to fellow lawmakers on a House ethics panel to disguise kickbacks from a defense contractor, according to a summary of an interview between the congressman and federal investigators.

Cunningham said he asked the House Ethics Committee in 2001 to review a sale of his yacht “Kelly C” to the defense contractor to avoid arousing suspicions when, in fact, there was no sale.

He fabricated the transaction and lied to lawmakers about it to “cover his bases” and make $100,000 in kickbacks appear legitimate.

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Cunningham, a Republican, has not spoken publicly since going to prison in March 2006. He pleaded guilty in 2005 to taking $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractor Brent Wilkes and others in exchange for millions of dollars in government contracts. As part of his plea deal, he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Wilkes has pleaded not guilty to bribery, fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. His attorney, Mark Geragos, did not respond to a phone message Thursday.

Cunningham detailed the arrangement in two interviews with prosecutors and government agents at his Tucson, Ariz., prison in February, a week before Wilkes was indicted.

The 11-page FBI summary of the interviews, part of a court filing dated July 13, details Cunningham’s financial transactions with Wilkes and another contractor, Mitch Wade, who pleaded guilty to bribery last year.

Cunningham said he got into legislative “food fights” with U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., to secure more than $100 million in federal funding for Wilkes’ companies.

The former congressman, now 66 and in ill health, catalogued fancy trips, dinners and sports events he attended with Wilkes, many of which have been documented in court records. He also described hiring prostitutes on luxurious Hawaiian getaways.

Cunningham said he helped arrange meetings between New York financier Thomas Kontogiannis and military contractor General Dynamics Corp. to broker a deal to sell F-16 fighter jets to the Greek government. The deal never materialized.

Kontogiannis pleaded guilty in secret proceedings in February to illegally helping Cunningham finance the purchase of a $2.5 million Rancho Santa Fe mansion. He is expected to be called as a government witness against Wilkes and New York mortgage banker John Michael, Kontogiannis’ own nephew. Their trial is scheduled for September in San Diego. Michael has pleaded not guilty to laundering money for Cunningham’s mortgage payments.

The interview summary was included in a filing by Michael’s attorney, Ray Granger.

Michael opposes efforts by federal prosecutors to keep court transcripts sealed in the government’s case against Kontogiannis. The federal judge in the case against Wilkes and Michael ordered the transcripts made public, but government attorneys objected because they contain classified information. The case is before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A service of the Associated Press(AP)