TPM News

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.

Read More →

Bradley Schlozman, a former Justice Department official who was at the center of the U.S. attorneys scandal and is under investigation by the Departments inspector general for his alleged efforts to politicize the Civil Rights Division, has finally left his post at the Department.

After he left his position as the U.S. attorney in Kansas City this April, Schlozman moved to the Justice Department office that oversees all U.S. attorneys. Reached on his cell phone today, Schlozman confirmed that he'd left the Department last week, but refused to say anything more and then hung up.

That makes Schlozman the latest in a long line of Department officials to leave in the wake of the firings scandal, including former White House liaison Monica Goodling, chief of staff Kyle Sampson, Acting Associate Attorney General William Mercer, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, and his chief of staff Michael Elston.

Before being tapped as the U.S. attorney for Kansas City in March of 2006 (after his predecessor Todd Graves was abruptly fired), Schlozman oversaw the voting rights section of the Civil Rights Division with an iron hand. Former employees say that, in tandem with Hans von Spakovsky, Schlozman gutted the voting rights division's efforts to protect African-American voters and made sure that the group did not oppose voter ID laws. The two also punished lawyers and other employees who did not toe the line, former employees say, sometimes changing performance evaluations to add negative comments.

Read More →

If John Michael's motion against his uncle, Thomas Kontogiannis, could be summarized in two words, they'd be these: Stop Snitching. The only thing is, judging by some of the filings in the motion, snitching is how Kontogiannis has been able to stay out of jail, despite at least two previous convictions.

Kontogiannis's first known conviction came when he pleaded guilty in 1994 to conspiring to bribe an official at the U.S. embassy in Athens, secure fraudulent visas, and commit immigration fraud. An unknown individual paid Kontogiannis to get him a fake visa, and so Kontogiannis flew to Athens, where he conspired with a Greek employee of the embassy, Pantelis Papazachariou, to supply the visa, and got the balance of his money when he supplied the individual with the goods. Additionally, he got a second individual in touch with Papazachariou to secure a fake student visa. Only one problem: both unknown individuals were federal informants. Kontogiannis was caught red-handed.

Read More →

During a press conference this afternoon, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced that the White House had still not responded to the committee's subpoena for documents relating to the legal basis for the warrantless surveillance program. "Time is up," Leahy said, "we've waited long enough." He went on to say, however, that he remained open to cooperating with the White House for the production of the documents: "I prefer cooperation to contempt." But if the administration has still not responded to the subpoena by September when Congress returns from recess, he said that he would pursue contempt proceedings in the committee "if that's what it takes."

You can see video here:

Leahy made clear that contempt proceedings would be a measure of last resort and that he'd prefer getting the documents through cooperation to a long court battle. On the other hand, he signaled that there's a limit to what that cooperation might mean. Asked by a reporter about noise from the White House that it would need certain "accommodations" in turning over documents relating to the surveillance program, Leahy said "the only accommodations we tend to get from the White House are 'do it our way and we'll be happy with you.'" That said, he clearly remained open to negotiating, saying that it was a choice between a court battle and "find out what happened."

Read More →

Remember the good old days when politicians faced scrutiny in discrete media -- print, radio and television? No longer. New media convergence is here and it's killing folks like Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), according to the NBC affiliate in Alaska, KTUU.

KTUU said there's a new rule for politicians: "if it's out there, it's going everywhere."

Stevens learned that lesson last week when the Anchorage Daily News posted audio from an editorial board interview on its site, where Stevens complained that the paper is out to "assassinate" him. It was a big first for the paper and popular with several other outlets that picked it up (cough), including a local radio show that aired parts of the interview.

Read More →

Thomas Kontogiannis really can't help himself. We knew that the New York-based businessman was convicted in 1994 of committing visa fraud and bribing officials at the U.S. embassy in Athens; and again in 2000 of paying a Queens school district official 50 grand in a paper bag to steer lucrative contracts to his company. But there was big money in those capers: the contract for installing computer equipment at the schools involved millions of dollars, and Kontogiannis and his henchmen ultimately had to repay the district nearly $5 million. Most notably, in February, Kontogiannis pleaded guilty to a count of engaging in an illicit monetary transaction for Duke Cunningham after Cunningham gave him up for laundering millions in bribes from Mitchell Wade and Brent Wilkes.

But in his nephew John Michael's motion, we see a seedier side of Kontogiannis: a guy who can't help himself when there's money to be snatched. Apparently, in 1996, Kontogiannis stole the identity of a certain Thomas Conti, opened at least ten credit cards in Conti's name, and racked up a couple grand in purchases. All this occurred when Kontogiannis was on federal probation in the visa-fraud case.

That's not all. Exhibits filed along with Michael's motion also reveal that in December 1996, Chase Manhattan declined Conti's application to start a line of credit, alerting him that he already had a delinquent account with the bank. In response, Kontogiannis actually created a limited power of attorney for himself over Conti's finances in order to stop fraud investigations by the banks and credit card companies. He and "Conti" wrote to American Express's fraud division on December 23, 1996:

Since all accounts with American Express were current and in good standing and after a personal visit with Mr. Kontogiannis, there is no reason to further pursue this and it would be greatly appreciated that Mr. Contis [sic] accounts be restored at the earliest convenience.

That, at least, was generous of Tommy K. The documents, unfortunately, don't specify what he bought with Conti's money. But his buddies down at the Bing must have been impressed.

On Friday, indicted Duke Cunningham co-conspirator John Michael attempted to turn the tables on his uncle Thomas Kontogiannis, who appears to be cooperating with the government to convict Michael in order to get his own sentence reduced. Michael threw down the gauntlet in a wide-ranging motion seeking the dismissal of charges against Michael, the exclusion of Kontogiannis's testimony, and the removal of one of the U.S. attorneys on the case, Philip Halpern, as Kontogiannis's daughter purchased a home owned by Halperin's uncle in Nassau County, New York. Reports the San Diego Union-Tribune:

The papers allege that Kontogiannis' daughter, Annette Apergis, purchased a Nassau County, N.Y., home from a member of the Halpern family in June 2005. The prosecutor's uncle died in 2003 and the home, on a privately owned and maintained street, was bought from his widow, according to the papers.

But the transaction wasn't recorded until this year – after Kontogiannis took a plea deal from prosecutors. Kontogiannis pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering for his role in hiding the bribes given to former congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham through mortgages.

The motion filed by Granger, says the case against Michael should be dismissed because prosecutors have allowed Kontogiannis to continue to profit from his complex mortgage and financial frauds, even after he pleaded guilty in February.

Granger is asking District Court Judge Larry Burns to dismiss the indictment against his client, or prohibit Kontogiannis from testifying. Michael is going on trial along with Brent Wilkes, the Poway defense contractor who is alleged to have bribed Cunningham to win lucrative defense contracts.

We've added Michael's motion to our Document Collection, and you can read it here. Check back for choice tidbits, as it reveals aspects of Kontogiannis's murky, extralegal history.

Update: This post initially stated that Kontogiannis' daughter sold her home to Halpern's uncle, when in fact it was Annette Kontogiannis Alpergis who purchased the property.

On Friday, the White House requested a second extension to the deadline to comply with subpoenas issued about the origins of the warrantless surveillance program. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy's (D-VT) response? "The deadline is 2:30," says Leahy spokeswoman Erica Chabot.

White House counsel Fred Fielding wrote in a letter to the committee Friday that the White House needed until after Labor Day to cull its files for information pertinent to the legal justifications for the surveillance program -- and, in any event, practically all of it falls under executive privilege.

The original compliance deadline was July 18, but the committee and the White House agreed to an extension after Fielding and chief of staff Josh Bolten called Leahy to say that "thorough collection and review of responsive documents" would take until around August 1. After another week lapsed beyond that, on August 8, Leahy told the White House that August 20 -- today -- is the final deadline.

Read More →

Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) isn't letting a federal investigation stop him from doing business with his favorite lobbying firm. Innovative Federal Strategies, a lobbyist firm under watch for its relationship with the California lawmaker, nevertheless secured $55 million for its clients through earmarks that were sponsored or co-sponsored by Lewis. (The Hill)

Another kind of deployment. The Washington Post details how Karl Rove, along with his “deployment” team, coordinated official government announcements to maximize President Bush’s political gain, particularly during election time. Cabinet officials with government largesse would visit key battleground states just before the elections. Rove may have executed nearly 100 political briefings to various Cabinet departments and agencies. (Washington Post)

The Defense Intelligence Agency is looking to outsource even more of its intelligence gathering responsibilities this year. As of now, the cost looks to be over one billion dollars paid to private firms in charge of core intelligence gathering and analysis. This comes only months after Congress forced the DIA to decrease the number of private contractors gathering intel. (Washington Post)

Michael “Brownie” Brown, the former director of FEMA who resigned under pressure after the government’s dismal response to Hurricane Katrina, has found a new (and we imagine, a more lucrative) calling: consultant to government agencies and other customers on disaster relief and data-mining. With his success, Brown is not that bitter about being the scapegoat for the Bush administration: “There is life after government…even after you have been thrown under a bus by the leader of the free world.” (Chicago Tribune’s The Swamp)

Read More →

It looks like Rep. Don Young's (R-AK) $10 million Coconut Road earmark has roped him into another FBI investigation, McClatchy reports.

Young slipped the money into a 2005 transportation bill just days after a real estate developer, Daniel Aronoff held a fundraiser in Florida that fetched Young $40,000 in campaign contributions. The earmark raised our eyebrows higher when a report commissioned by the local government in Lee County, Florida exposed how Young rewrote the bill's language after the House and Senate had voted, but right before the legislation landed on the President's desk, targeting the money specifically for a Coconut Road-I-75 interchange, rather than a larger project. The Coconut Road interchange is unpopular in the community, but a boon for Aronoff.

Already entangled in the widening, criminal Veco-Alaska corruption investigation, this scrutiny appears to be entirely separate, according to McClatchy:

Young's action is among a number of congressional "earmarks" for specific pet projects drawing scrutiny from the Justice Department and an FBI team investigating alleged influence peddling on Capitol Hill, said the source, who insisted on anonymity.

Read More →