Over at Kevin Drums

Over at Kevin Drum’s site I saw a link to this article about, or interview with, Marcus Stern, the guy who broke the Duke Cunningham story last summer. The San Diego CityBEAT interviewed him by phone from Pakistan where he’s now on assignment for another story.

We now know something like a million things Duke did wrong. But, remember, it all started with that suspicious over-market-price home sale to defense contractor Mitchell Wade. Once that first corrupt blood was in the water, the piranhas started circling and soon everything came out — though Stern got a number of the subsequent scoops as well.

There’s always been a lot of speculation about what tripped Duke up. Did someone drop a dime on him? A pissed off contractor? Political opponents? Or even political friends?

That’s not what happened, says Stern.

Stern told CityBEAT that it was a combination of those fishy trips to Saudi Arabia we’ve discussed, Cunningham’s behavior and just some good old fashioned reporting.

Here’s the key passage …

With that red flag on Cunningham’s travels, Stern, in May, filled a few idle hours at his desk by performing routine “lifestyle audits” of members of the California Congressional delegation. That’s when he stumbled upon the sale of Cunningham’s home.

“I basically kicked over this one last stone, which was looking to see if he had upgraded his living accommodations,” Stern said. What he found was that Cunningham had purchased a new home in the exclusive neighborhood of Rancho Santa Fe for $2.55 million.

“That seemed like a substantial upgrade to me, so I looked at how he did that,” Stern said. Using a variety of public records, he traced the details surrounding the sale of Cunningham’s old home in Del Mar.

“When I looked to see who bought it, I saw it was something called 1523 New Hampshire Avenue Inc.,” he said. Recognizing the company’s name as possibly linked to a Washington, D.C., address, Stern did a quick search and found that it was the same location as the D.C. headquarters of Wade’s company, MZM Inc.

“All of a sudden I got very interested,” he said. “From the time I started looking at the house until the time I understood what was going on took about 15 minutes. I think that they thought they were covering it up, but they covered it up with Plexiglas.”

Some stories get busted open with instincts and doggedness. Access sometimes just gets in the way.

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