A corruption scandal grows wider

A defense contractor who bribed Duke Cunningham admits that he also directed illegal campaign contributions to other members of Congress.

Published February 24, 2006 7:54PM (EST)

Defense contractor Mitchell Wade pleaded guilty today to paying more than $1 million in bribes to former Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham. That part wasn't a surprise -- Cunningham has already pleaded guilty to being on the receiving end of Wade's bribes -- but the rest of Wade's plea agreement is: In addition to admitting that he bribed Cunningham, Wade says he bestowed favors on Defense Department employees and made illegal campaign contributions to two other members of Congress in order to win business for his firm, MZM.

The TPM Cafe has excerpts from the press release issued today by the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Diego. Among other things, Wade admits to circumventing campaign finance laws that limit individual contributions to $2,000 by handing wads of cash to his employees and their spouses and then immediately asking them to make "contributions" to certain U.S. representatives. In one instance, the U.S. Attorney's Office says, Wade handed a pile of checks from his employees and their spouses directly to a member of Congress. After making such contributions, prosecutors say, Wade asked for -- and received -- assurances that millions of dollars in appropriations would be set aside for an MZM facility.

Prosecutors say that Wade didn't tell the members of Congress that the checks he gave them represented illegal "straw contributions" -- wouldn't it have been obvious? -- and they haven't identified the officials who are said to have received the checks.

As for the Defense Department, prosecutors say Wade also admits to guaranteeing the success of MZM by, among other things, arranging for a Department of Defense employee to be hired by MZM (with the government ultimately reimbursing MZM for the expense) and hiring a Defense Department employee who was supposed to be overseeing MZM's work.

Wade could be sentenced to more than 11 years in federal prison.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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