Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Doing business the GOP way

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:sigh: So many times, the same story:

When Poway defense contractor Brent Wilkes heard that the United States was going to go to war with Iraq, he was ecstatic, say several former colleagues.

“He and some of his top executives were really gung-ho about the war,” said a former employee of his now-defunct firm ADCS Inc. “Brent said this would create new opportunities for the company. He was really excited about doing business in the Middle East.”

Wilkes eventually got his wish of doing business in the war zone. But his contract – to supply $1.7 million worth of bottled water and other goods to CIA operatives in Iraq – is now the focus of a federal indictment.

Wilkes pleaded not guilty yesterday to improperly using his friendship with former high-ranking CIA official Kyle “Dusty” Foggo to land the Iraq contract. At the same time, Wilkes pleaded not guilty to bribing former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham to gain other contracts from the Defense Department.

Foggo also pleaded not guilty yesterday.

Government watchdogs say the case is emblematic of the way contracts have been awarded during the Iraq war.

“Many contracts have gone to companies who had the best contacts instead of the best bid,” said Mary Boyle, spokeswoman at Common Cause. “Performance and cost has often been irrelevant. What matters is who you know.”

Since its founding in 1995, ADCS obtained more than $100 million in federal contracts with the help of congressional allies who received campaign contributions from Wilkes. Cunningham, who sat on the House Intelligence Committee and the House Appropriations Committee, was one of his chief benefactors.

When the Iraq war began in 2003, Wilkes redoubled his efforts to woo politicians and officials in the Pentagon and CIA.

“He was trying to build a business in the Middle East and needed support from some politicians,” said a former employee, who asked not to be named for fear of being drawn into the court case. “It was one of the things (the top executives of ADCS) were really excited about.”

Wilkes’ plan to deliver water to Iraq began in the summer of 2003, shortly after the U.S.-led invasion. At the time, CIA operatives in Iraq were relying on contractors in Kuwait and other friendly countries to supply them with bottled water, first-aid kits and other provisions.

Wilkes had little obvious experience ferrying goods overseas, especially to a war zone. But he wanted the CIA supply business to go to his holding company, Group W. He was aided by Foggo, who was then a logistics officer in Frankfurt, Germany, overseeing CIA purchases throughout Europe and the Middle East, including Iraq.

Foggo had long been Wilkes’ best friend. The two men grew up together in Chula Vista, served as best men at each other’s weddings and named their sons after each other.

In August 2003, Wilkes took Foggo and his family on an all-expenses-paid vacation to Scotland, including $12,000 in jet flights, $4,000 for a helicopter ride to a round of golf and $44,000 for a stay in the Pitcastle estate in Scotland, where a seven-person staff attended to the Wilkes and Foggo families.

While in Scotland, Wilkes and Foggo went trout fishing and skeet shooting and enjoyed one of their favorite pastimes, smoking fine cigars.

Shortly after their return, Foggo sent Wilkes an e-mail message titled “Scotland and Cigars,” the indictment said. In the e-mail, Foggo assured Wilkes that “I’ll work this water thing. . . . Group W is in this deal.”

The indictment referred to the person running the project as “Wilkes Subordinate X” and detailed how Foggo coached him on how to deal with CIA contracting officers.

“I’ll need to brief you a bit on how you need to play this,” Foggo wrote in a e-mail quoted in the indictment.

Some CIA operatives in Iraq balked at having to pay Group W for supplies, the indictment said. At least one operative wrote Foggo, noting that the supplies could easily be purchased off the shelf, the Associated Press reported last week. Wilkes’ water had a 60 percent markup, according to the indictment.

To stave off concerns about cronyism, Foggo, Wilkes and Subordinate X agreed that the water contract should not be traced to Wilkes, the indictment said. Subordinate X was told to say that he and Foggo had met in a cigar bar in Washington.

Wilkes then asked Subordinate X to set up a separate company to handle the water contract, the indictment said.

In his Poway headquarters, Wilkes made no secret about the water contract. A former business associate – who also asked not to be named because he wants to stay out of the court case – recalls visiting Wilkes in 2003 and seeing an array of water bottles on his desk.

“It looks like we’re in the water business now,” Wilkes said with a smile, as he briefly described the Iraq contract.

Foggo was later promoted to the position of executive director of the CIA, the agency’s third-highest position, in charge of day-to-day operations. But he wrote to a banker that he expected to retire within three years, having received an offer to work at an unnamed California company. Wilkes had set aside an office in his Poway headquarters for Foggo to work after his retirement, sources said.

The indictment said Foggo was trying to help Wilkes obtain other deals with the CIA. Sources within the CIA said that in mid-2005, Wilkes was negotiating a deal worth more than $200 million to provide transportation services for CIA operations overseas. But the deal fell through when Wilkes’ name became associated with the Cunningham scandal.

Written by Leisureguy

15 February 2007 at 8:38 am

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