Once, Brent Wilkes built a railroad. Made it run. Made it race against time. Made it spend over $1 million to bribe a Republican Congressman in exchange for multi-million dollar defense contracts. (Allegedly!) Now, the tracks have supposedly come apart on Wilkes' financial railroad.
Yesterday, Judge Larry Burns, the San Diego federal district magistrate presiding over the multifaceted Duke Cunningham-related trials, ruled that Wilkes is too broke to afford representation in his upcoming trial for bribery, money laundering and conspiracy. Wilkes, of course, made millions as the head of defense contractor ADCS, thanks largely to Cunningham, who Wilkes (allegedly!) rewarded with cash and the occasional prostitute. Can he really be bankrupt?
The government doesn't buy it. Wilkes' current attorneys -- who apparently see the end of the gravy train in front of them -- submitted a sealed financial document to Burns claiming indigence. But prosecutors are fighting to have it released, claiming that Wilkes may have profited from a transaction shortly after his March indictment alongside his best friend, ex-CIA official Kyle "Dusty" Foggo. Reports the San Diego Union-Tribune
During the hearing, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office questioned whether Wilkes should be allowed to have an attorney paid for by the government, noting that the defense contractor is believed to have greatly profited from his alleged crimes. In April, Wilkes sold a Poway building that owed millions in past-due mortgage payments for $16.8 million to a San Francisco real estate investment firm.
The government also wanted to view the financial affidavit, arguing the public has a right to know its contents, Jason Forge, a federal prosecutor, told the judge.
Determining who wants what to remain secret in the Cunningham cases -- and who profited from what, even post-indictment -- gets practically comic. Forge is part of the prosecution team fighting to keep key details of Thomas Kontogiannis' guilty plea (and apparent cooperation in related prosecutions) under seal. Burns questioned how Forge can think Wilkes' finances should be public while the basic terms of Tommy K's plea remain sealed. And on Friday, lawyers for yet another defendant, New York mortgage broker John Michael, claimed that the government had turned a blind eye to Kontogiannis profiting from real-estate assets in exchange for his cooperation.
Wilkes is to be represented, at taxpayer expense, by the nonprofit Federal Defenders of San Diego. His trial, the paper reports, is likely to be deferred until next year. And if Wilkes finds himself dissatisfied at trial with FDSD's performance, maybe he can ask Kontogiannis to float him some cash.