Sunday, May 07, 2006

More Questions Surface in the Wake of a Congressman's Bribery Case

The New York Times
More Questions Surface in the Wake of a Congressman's Bribery Case

WASHINGTON, May 6 — A federal investigation into one congressman's bribe-taking last year has produced a second round of inquiries into the actions of officials at the C.I.A. and the Homeland Security Department and of members of the House Intelligence Committee, government officials say.

These new inquiries reach beyond Randy Cunningham, the former Republican House member from California who was sentenced in March to more than eight years in prison for taking $2.4 million in bribes from military contractors. The investigations suggest a growing suspicion among some lawmakers that corrupt practices may have influenced decision-making in Congress and at executive-branch agencies.

Last month, The San Diego Union-Tribune and The Wall Street Journal reported that federal investigators were looking into whether the military contractors involved in Mr. Cunningham's bribery had also arranged limousines, poker parties and prostitutes for him at the Watergate and Westin Grand hotels here.

Law enforcement officials have confirmed these reports, and a manager at the Watergate has said the hotel was subpoenaed by federal officials seeking documents related to the poker parties. Calls to Mr. Cunningham's lawyer, K. Lee Blalack II, seeking comment were not returned.

The investigation has led to further official inquiries into who arranged and attended the poker parties and their connections to the military contractors who played roles in Mr. Cunningham's bribery.

The inspector general of the Central Intelligence Agency, the agency says, is conducting an inquiry into Kyle Foggo, its executive director, who said this week that he attended some of the parties over the years.

Mr. Foggo, the C.I.A.'s third-ranking official, is a longtime friend of Brent R. Wilkes, one of the military contractors whose role is described in the indictment against Mr. Cunningham. Mr. Wilkes has not been charged, and his lawyer did not return calls on Friday.

Mr. Wilkes is a business associate of Mitchell Wade, a military contractor who pleaded guilty in February to providing more than $1 million in bribes to Mr. Cunningham. Mr. Wade's lawyer declined Friday to discuss his client's role in the investigation.

A C.I.A. spokesman said Saturday that Mr. Foggo has said he did not violate agency rules in the awarding of contracts and that the poker games were nothing more than a gathering of friends. Mr. Foggo was promoted to his job at the C.I.A. by Porter J. Goss, who abruptly resigned Friday as director of the agency. There has been no suggestion by officials involved in these investigations that Mr. Goss did anything wrong or was under investigation.

The inquiry into the poker games has also put a spotlight on the limousine company that ferried Mr. Cunningham and others to the Watergate and Westin Grand. The company, Shirlington Limousine and Transportation, is operated by Christopher D. Baker, a man with a history of criminal convictions and financial troubles. Shirlington won a contract worth as much as $25.2 million to drive homeland security employees and officials around Washington.

Lawyers for Mr. Baker did not return calls seeking comment, and a message left with Shirlington Limousine's answering service on Saturday did not bring a response. The company is listed at several addresses in the region, including a post office box in Arlington, Va., and an apartment in a residential building in downtown Washington.

Shirlington provided 12 minibuses five days a week to drive homeland security employees among downtown offices, and 10 drivers to ferry department executives around the region in department-owned sedans.

F.B.I. agents have talked to Shirlington employees about driving Mr. Cunningham and prostitutes to hotel poker parties, and have interviewed women who work for escort services, said a lawyer involved in the investigation.

On Friday, Republicans and Democrats on the House Committee on Homeland Security announced that they planned to investigate Shirlington Limousine's contract.

"The information we've obtained raises a number of serious questions, from the contracting process to possible security concerns," said Representative Mike Rogers of Alabama, the Republican chairman of the House subcommittee in charge of management and oversight at the Department of Homeland Security. "The appearance of a lack of background checks on contractors is another troubling personnel issue at D.H.S. that we are examining."

In a draft letter to the inspector general of homeland security, to be sent Monday, Representative Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, asks why the department hired the limousine company and whether Shirlington's bid received preferential treatment. It seeks a list of official passengers.

Democrats on the committee said Friday that they plan to ask homeland security officials about the Shirlington contract in a May 18 hearing.

Larry Orluskie, a homeland security spokesman, said background checks were conducted on all Shirlington drivers before they were given access to department cars and officials. He stressed that the department does not use Shirlington's limousines and that it has been "absolutely satisfied" with the company since awarding it a contract in April 2004.

"The drivers are professional," he said. "The buses are always on time. The contract is just perfect."

In January, the top Republican and top Democrat on the House intelligence committee announced their own inquiry into whether Mr. Cunningham's bribery schemes had influenced the committee's business. The intelligence committee oversees the 16 intelligence agencies and their $44 billion annual budget.