Steve's Soapbox

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Republican Cunningham: "Concealed my Conduct"

Republican Tom Delay comments on Duke Cunningham: " Duke Cunningham is a hero,” “ He is an honorable man of high integrity."
Calif. Congressman Admits Taking Bribes
By ELLIOT SPAGAT, Associated Press Writer Mon Nov 28,11:51 PM ET
SAN DIEGO - Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, an eight-term congressman and hotshot Vietnam War fighter jock, pleaded guilty to graft and tearfully resigned Monday, admitting he took $2.4 million in bribes mostly from defense contractors in exchange for government business and other favors.
"The truth is I broke the law, concealed my conduct, and disgraced my office," the 63-year-old Republican said at a news conference. "I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions, most importantly, the trust of my friends and family."
He could get up to 10 years in prison at sentencing Feb. 27 on federal charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and fraud, and tax evasion.
Investigators said Cunningham, a member of a House Appropriations subcommittee that controls defense dollars, secured contracts worth tens of millions of dollars for those who paid him off. Prosecutors did not identify the defense contractors by name.
Cunningham was charged in a case that grew out of an investigation into the sale of his home to a defense contractor at an inflated price.
The congressman had already announced in July — after the investigation became public — that he would not seek re-election next year. But until he entered his plea, he had insisted he had done nothing wrong.
Cunningham's plea came amid a series of GOP scandals: Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas had to step down as majority leader after he was indicted in a campaign finance case; a stock sale by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is being looked at by regulators; and Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff was indicted in the CIA leak case.
Cunningham, a swaggering former flying ace with the Navy during the Vietnam War, was known on Capitol Hill for his interest in defense issues and his occasional outbursts.
In court documents, prosecutors said Cunningham admitted receiving at least $2.4 million in bribes paid in a variety of forms, including checks totaling over $1 million, cash, antiques, rugs, furniture, yacht club fees and vacations.
Among other things, prosecutors said, Cunningham was given $1.025 million to pay down the mortgage on his Rancho Santa Fe mansion, $13,500 to buy a Rolls-Royce and $2,081 for his daughter's graduation party at a Washington hotel.
"He did the worst thing an elected official can do — he enriched himself through his position and violated the trust of those who put him there," U.S. Attorney Carol Lam said.
Cunningham was allowed to remain free while he awaits sentencing. He also agreed to forfeit his mansion, more than $1.8 million in cash, and antiques and rugs.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will have 14 days to set a date for an election to replace Cunningham, the governor's office said.
He is the first congressman to leave office amid bribery allegations since 2002, when former Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio, was sentenced to eight years in prison after being convicted of racketeering and accepting bribes.
The case began when authorities started investigating Cunningham's sale of his Del Mar house to defense contractor Mitchell Wade for $1,675,000. Wade sold the house nearly a year later for $975,000 — a loss of $700,000 in a hot real estate market.
Prosecutors said the house purchase was part of Cunningham's guilty pleas.
In addition to buying Cunningham's home at an inflated price, Wade let him live rent-free on Wade's yacht, the Duke Stir, at a yacht club. Wade's company, MZM Inc., also donated generously to Cunningham's campaigns.
Around the same time, MZM was winning defense contracts.
MZM does classified intelligence work for the military. It had $65.5 million of contracts for intelligence-related defense work in fiscal 2004, ranking No. 38 on the Pentagon's list. The company has established a presence in Iraq, fielding a small team of interpreters shortly after the invasion.
Although prosecutors did not name Cunningham's four co-conspirators, details in the plea documents, including business addresses and occupations, make clear that Wade was one of them.
The documents indicate another conspirator was Brent Wilkes, an associate of Wade's who headed a defense contracting company called ADCS Inc. that also provided campaign cash and favors to Cunningham while reaping valuable contracts.
Another co-conspirator appears to be Thomas Kontogiannis, a New York developer. Cunningham interceded with prosecutors on Kontogiannis' behalf when he had legal troubles, and a mortgage company run by relatives of Kontogiannis' helped Cunningham finance a condo in Virginia and his house in Rancho Santa Fe.
Attorneys for Wilkes and Wade declined to comment. Kontogiannis' attorney did not return a call.
Associated Press reporter Erica Werner in Washington contributed to this report.
"Concealed my Conduct" !

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