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April 29, 2006
Professional Courtesy?

The Washington Post has uncovered an even seedier level of corruption surrounding disgraced former Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) and the defense contractors that made him a millionaire. According to sources within a federal investigation, money wasn't the only thing the contractors stuffed into the Duke's pants, and Cunningham may not have been alone:

Federal authorities are investigating allegations that a California defense contractor arranged for a Washington area limousine company to provide prostitutes to convicted former congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) and possibly other lawmakers, sources familiar with the probe said yesterday.

In recent weeks, investigators have focused on possible dealings between Christopher D. Baker, president of Shirlington Limousine and Transportation Inc., and Brent R. Wilkes, a San Diego businessman who is under investigation for bribing Cunningham in return for millions of dollars in federal contracts, said one source, who requested anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. ...

The Cunningham investigation's latest twist came after Mitchell J. Wade, a defense contractor who has admitted bribing the former congressman, told prosecutors that Wilkes had an arrangement with Shirlington Limousine, which in turn had an arrangement with at least one escort service, one source said. Wade said limos would pick up Cunningham and a prostitute and bring them to suites Wilkes maintained at the Watergate Hotel and the Westin Grand in Washington, the source said.

Cunningham resigned from Congress after pleading guilty last November to accepting $2.4 million in bribes from four co-conspirators, including Wilkes and Wade. The former lawmaker was sentenced to eight years and four months in prison. Wade pleaded guilty to his part in the scheme in February and is cooperating with investigators. Wilkes has not been charged.

The allegations about prostitutes were reported this week by the Wall Street Journal. Asked yesterday about the allegations, Wilkes's attorney, Michael Lipman of San Diego, said: "My client denies any involvement in that conduct." Cunningham's lawyer, K. Lee Blalack II, declined to comment.

Why should this be shocking? After all, Cunningham prostituted his office for his own personal gain. One might even expect that the financial arrangements may have been mitigated from a sense of professional courtesy.

The investigation will focus on government contracts given to Shirlington and its president by the Department of Homeland Security. Baker has a criminal record for misdemeanors including drug charges and larceny, and managed to avoid conviction on felony charges for armed robbery. He has had problems with the IRS -- well, who hasn't? -- and filed for bankruptcy twice. Despite all of these background issues, Baker managed to win multi-million-dollar contracts with DHS for transportation services, the first time as the only bidder for the contract. In the past two years, it has received $25 million in contracts with DHS.

On the surface, and way below that, this looks like Shirlington secured its contracts through its longstanding support for Cunningham and his "entertainment", a relationship that goes all the way back to the early 1990s when Baker first launched his limousine service. Two possibilities exist if federal investigators can establish a connection between Cunningham and the awarding of the DHS contracts. Either Baker paid Cunningham off in hookers, or Baker blackmailed Cunningham with the knowledge of the Congressman's track record in personal entertainment.

Once again, we see in a petty and tawdry way why government spending on foolishness creates the opportunity for corruption. It's the trap that captures politicians of both parties and keeps lobbyists highly paid. It turns the entir federal government into a bunch of whores, and the irony in this story is that the actual prostitutes are probably the least blameworthy and most honest out of everyone involved.

Addendum: The Post's article is a late entry, TPM Muckraker reminds us. The Wall Street Journal and the San Diego Union-Tribune have much more on this subject, including the scope of the investigation. The feds think that the Duke may have had Congressional company on his nights out with the ladies.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 29, 2006 8:57 AM

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