Prosecutors Urge 10-Year Sentence for Cunningham

By Charles R. Babcock
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 18, 2006; A02

Convicted former representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) should be sentenced to the maximum 10 years in prison because of "unparalleled corruption" that included a "bribe menu" on congressional letterhead telling a defense contractor what payments were required for different levels of federal funding, federal prosecutors said in court papers yesterday.

Cunningham pleaded guilty in November to bribery-related and tax-evasion charges of accepting $2.4 million from two contractors and two other men in return for steering defense work to them. The pre-sentencing memo filed by prosecutors in San Diego yesterday offered new details on the extent of his crimes and efforts he made to cover them up.

For instance, it said that Cunningham offered one of the contractors, identifiable in the court papers as Mitchell Wade, head of a Washington company called MZM Inc., $16 million in government contracts in return for the title to a boat Wade had just bought for $140,000. A copy of the notes is included in the filing, showing, the government said, that Cunningham charged an additional $50,000 for every $1 million more.

When the payments reached $340,000, the rate for each $1 million of federal funding dropped to $25,000, the document said.

The 35-page memo detailed several other incidents, including several in which the government said Cunningham attempted to tamper with witnesses when he feared that his actions would be discovered.

Cunningham's attorney, K. Lee Blalack II, said in a statement last night that the government's recommendation is "not surprising, but it is sad." He said he will recommend a six-year sentence.

Wade's lawyer, Reginald Brown, declined to comment last night.

Cunningham's downfall began last June when the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Wade had bought Cunningham's house there for $700,000 more than it was worth in 2003. The congressman used the proceeds to buy a more expensive home in Rancho Santa Fe.

The prosecutor's filing said that in 2004, Cunningham set out to erase the mortgages on his new home. First he demanded that the other contractor, identifiable as Brent Wilkes, head of ADCS Inc., give him $525,000 to pay off a second mortgage. The contractor did so on the condition that he received an additional $6 million in government funding, prosecutors said.

Cunningham demanded that Wade pay him $500,000 to pay off the rest of the mortgage, which prosecutors said Wade did by writing checks for $171,000 and $329,000 to Top Gun Enterprises, a memorabilia company Cunningham used to sell books and mementos of his days as a Navy fighter pilot in Vietnam.

Cunningham attempted to fabricate evidence and tamper with witnesses to his corruption, the government said, including persuading a real estate agent to write a letter justifying the lower price Wade resold his home for, and a phony letter in which Cunningham expressed his surprise at the low price and promised to pay Wade the difference.

He did not pay, the filing said.