Prosecutors Plan To Call Coconspirator To Stand In Bribery Trial

Friday, October 12th 2007, 7:32 am
By: News On 6

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ A former staffer for U.S. Rep. Randy Cunningham testified that a defense contractor on trial in federal court was one of Cunningham's top two funding priorities _ ahead of larger firms such as wireless giant Qualcomm Inc., or aerospace firm Northrop Grumman.

The testimony from Nancy Lifset, Cunningham's former legislative director, came Thursday in the trial of defense contractor Brent Wilkes. On Friday, prosecutors planned to question a second defense contractor, Mitchell Wade, a former Wilkes protege who became a rival for Cunningham's attention.

Wilkes has pleaded not guilty to charges he paid $625,000 for Cunningham's home mortgage and a boat and treating him to vacations, dinners and limo rides in exchange for help in securing about $90 million in federal contracts.

Wade pleaded guilty in 2006 to plying Cunningham with more than $1 million in bribes in exchange for $150 million in government contracts. He has not yet been sentenced and is cooperating with prosecutors under the terms of his plea agreement.

Wilkes, 53, is charged with 14 counts of conspiracy, bribery, fraud and money laundering. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.

On Thursday, witnesses testified that Cunningham responded with threats and angry phone calls when a Pentagon official tried to take government funds away from Wilkes.

Cunningham told supporters and lobbyists at a fundraising event that the official, Cheryl Roby, should be fired after she rejected his requests to give a $4 million contract to Wilkes, according to testimony from a former Cunningham staffer and a Pentagon manager.

Cunningham, a San Diego Republican who was elected to eight terms, is serving more than eight years in federal prison after pleading guilty in 2005 to accepting $2.4 million in bribes from Wilkes and others.