Brent Wilkes was an obscure California contractor and lobbyist until his name surfaced last year as one of two defense contractors alleged to have given Cunningham $2.4 million in cash and other benefits in return for Cunningham's steering government business their way. One of Wilkes' companies received more than $80 million in Pentagon contracts over the past decade that stemmed from earmarks that Cunningham slipped into spending bills.
Wilkes' dealings with Randy Beck, a small manufacturer — outlined in court records after a falling-out — provide insight into how one businessman set out to exploit the Washington system of earmarking — the practice of members of Congress setting aside pots of money for pet projects. That practice, involving billions of dollars annually, is vulnerable to abuse because much of the lobbying and decision making takes place behind closed doors, according to critics. And Wilkes, who has been implicated in the bribery-related conviction of resigned Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., pushed the limits of that system.
Although he has not been charged in the case, Wilkes' attorney has confirmed that he is the "co-conspirator" identified in the federal charging documents who allegedly made $625,000 in illegal payments to benefit Cunningham in 2000 and 2004. Prosecutors say the investigation is continuing.
The article fingers Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-CA).
In July 2002, Wilkes hired the Alexander Strategy Group, a lobby shop run by former aides of then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. Wilkes, Gelwix and their wives and associates then began donating to DeLay, Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Rep. John T. Doolittle, R-Calif., a member of the Appropriations Committee, among others.
They donated more than $85,000 to Doolittle's campaign and political action committee between 2002 and 2005. Doolittle acknowledged to The Washington Post recently that he sponsored earmarks, totaling $37 million, in defense funding bills for PerfectWave Technologies, beginning in 2002. Wilkes divested his majority interest in PerfectWave late last year after the Cunningham charges and his role in them became public.