Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007 | Brent Wilkes didn’t travel with just anyone in August 2003. And his trips weren’t just the ones you’d expect a defense contractor to make between Washington, D.C., and his businesses’ headquarters in Poway.
His companions included a powerful congressman and a CIA official who would soon become the agency’s No. 3 man. And in exchange for these luxurious getaways and other gifts, according to indictments released Tuesday, Wilkes sought — and secured — more than just companionship from the powerful Beltway figures.
Federal prosecutors allege that on Aug. 3 of that year, Wilkes and his family hopped aboard his private jet for a vacation to Scotland, with Wilkes’ childhood friend, Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, and his family.
The trip was replete with a $4,000 helicopter ride to play a round of golf at Carnoustie, where the British Open is sometimes held, and lodging expenses totaling at least $44,000 at the Pitcastle Estate, a castle near the River Tay in Perthshire. They went salmon and trout fishing, shot archery and had at their disposal a seven-person staff. Wilkes paid for the Foggo family’s expenses on that trip, federal prosecutors allege in the indictment.
Less than two weeks later, on Aug. 15, Wilkes headed to Hawaii with former Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham and one other person for a three-night, four-day stay at the Hapuna Suite in the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel.
The suite cost about $6,600 per night, and Wilkes had an employee pay at least $1,200 for two nights of services from two prostitutes for Wilkes and Cunningham, prosecutors allege. On the second evening, Cunningham requested a different prostitute than the one hired for him the first night, and Wilkes made that arrangement, the indictment says.
Entertainment expenses didn’t stop there for the trip — Wilkes also provided the travelers and others with gourmet Hawaiian cuisine, fine wines, catered breakfasts, cocktail parties and a golf tournament at Mauna Kea. On Aug. 18, the last day of the vacation, Wilkes instructed his employee to place the hotel bill on an American Express card belonging to one of his companies, Group W Advisors.
These kinds of extreme wining-and-dining anecdotes were employed Tuesday by prosecutors to illustrate Wilkes’ alleged involvement in complex bribery and conspiracy schemes reaching from Congress — where Cunningham served as an influential member on powerful committees — to the Central Intelligence Agency, where Foggo served as a senior officer overseas and eventually as the agency’s executive director for more than a year.
That allegedly lavish hospitality didn’t prove fruitless for Wilkes. In exchange for Wilkes’ efforts, the indictments say Cunningham and Foggo abused their influence in their respective places of power to steer millions of dollars in lucrative government defense contracts to Wilkes’ company, ADCS Inc., and a long list of other companies he owned.
In indictments announced Tuesday by U.S. Attorney Carol Lam and various investigators from the CIA, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service, Wilkes and Foggo were charged with bribery, honest services wire fraud, money laundering, unlawful monetary transactions and conspiracy to commit those acts.
The secretive arrangements were carried out over a period of at least 10 years, many of which found the United States embroiled in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
During that time, the two officials with the power to responsibly and efficiently award contracts to improve troop safety and more effectively allocate defense dollars were instead allegedly earmarking contracts for their contractor friends Wilkes and Mitchell Wade so that they would continue to support their luxurious lifestyle. (Wade, the owner of MZM Inc., pleaded guilty to charges for his role in the scheme and has not yet been sentenced.)
And they tried to hide it, indictments say. With shared roots in Chula Vista, where both attended Hilltop High, Wilkes and Foggo maintained a close friendship when both reached career success in Washington, D.C. Wilkes allegedly paid for many meals and travel expenses for Foggo.
But they tried to create the appearance of an arms-length relationship. In one instance, Wilkes appointed a go-between — named “Subordinate X” in the indictments — in February 2004 to oversee a water contract procured from the CIA. Foggo initiated contact with Subordinate X just days after returning from a trip to Hawaii at Wilkes’ expense on Jan. 7, 2004. When Subordinate X came to meet Foggo, he was instructed not to tell other CIA employees about Foggo’s long-time relationship with Wilkes. Foggo instead instructed Subordinate X to tell other CIA employees that they’d met in a cigar bar in Washington, D.C., according to indictments.
The next month, under a Wilkes-subsidiary company named Archer Defense, Subordinate X sent a shipment of bottled water to an “overseas location.” The contract for that service was allegedly priced 60 percent higher than would have been charged by another contractor. According to the indictment, Foggo had known about the other contractor’s lower price for several months but concealed the identity of that contractor from his colleagues in order to ensure Wilkes’ companies got it.
Later in 2004, when another CIA contractor raised some concerns about Wilkes, Foggo sent an e-mail to Wilkes, of which part is included in the indictment: “As you know I do have influence with him [the CIA contractor] and know I could get him to listen … that said if this issue is beyond repair in your mind — I am now, have been in the past, and will continue to as long as I breath [sic] — be your partner … so what do you want me to do?”
Foggo wasn’t the only one pledging to pull strings on Wilkes’ behalf, the indictments allege.
Wilkes’ company, ADCS, was an acronym for Automated Document Conversion System, and he sought contracts for his services. So he allegedly gave thousands of dollars in meals and trips in exchange for Cunningham’s unwavering support.
After allegedly telling a deputy defense official in September 1996 that he wanted a Department of Defense document-conversion program funded, Cunningham acted as an advocate for any services Wilkes could provide. The indictments detail years’ worth of memos and conversations held between Cunningham and defense officials, in which he pressured them to allocate millions more dollars to projects contracted with ADCS and Wade’s company, MZM — who, in turn, often subcontracted to ADCS. Cunningham also allegedly threatened defense officials’ jobs if they allowed invoices to go unpaid.
Cunningham pleaded guilty in November 2005 to taking $2.4 million in bribes and was sentenced last year to more than eight years in prison. He’s currently serving his term in a work camp near Tucson, Ariz.
At the press conference announcing the indictments Tuesday, Lam characterized Wilkes bribes to Cunningham as “breathtaking in scope.”
“These two indictments describe patterns of self-dealing and corruption that span 10 years and reach deep into our country’s system of procurement in the defense industry,” she said. The arraignment for the defendants is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Wilkes’ attorney, Mark Geragos, maintained his client’s innocence Tuesday afternoon. He decried the public and media speculation about Wilkes’ connections to the Cunningham scandal since it first surfaced in June 2005.
“It’s unfortunate that the indictments have been issued,” Geragos said. “But, maybe in a perverse way, it’s actually welcomed. Now we’re able to confront head-on what’s been leaked over 18 months — the false accusations and unfounded charges that have been leaked.”
“We’re pleading not guilty tomorrow,” he said. “There’s nothing in the indictment that changes that one iota.”
Please contact Kelly Bennett directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.