Five more members of Congress being probed in bribery affair
John Byrne
Published: Friday November 28, 2008

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Five other members of Congress are being probed in association with the bribery scandal linked to former California Republican congressman "Duke" Cunningham, according to a little-noticed legal filing discovered Thursday.

The 42-page sentencing memo was published online by Seth Hettena, an author who has published a book on Cunningham. It was made by the attorney for Mitchell Wade, the former defense contractor who pleaded guilty to bribing Cunningham in 2006 who has cooperated with the government in their investigation.

In addition to the five current or former members of Congress, numerous government employees and several private contractors are also under scrutiny.

Of the five congressmembers, two are formally under investigation and three are being examined for their "receipt of straw contributions" -- contributions made to members of Congress in an effort to get facilities opened in their districts. Investigators are also looking at a member of Congress for accepting undisclosed gifts, the crime that sunk Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens this year.

According to the filing, the five are being probed for "corruption similar to that of Mr. Cunningham." Cunningham, 64, was sentenced to 8 years in prison in 2006; Wade faces sentencing Dec. 15. His cooperation with prosecutors has resulted in guilty pleas or conviction for seven other individuals, the sentencing memo said, which seeks to have his sentence reduced to a fine and five years' probation.

Cunningham expert says Katherine Harris likely among those eyed

Though none of the additional congressmembers are named, Hettena believes they are "no doubt" Republican Reps. Virgil Goode and Katherine Harris. Harris became famous during the Florida recount in 2000, was elected to Congress in 2002, and was defeated in a run for the Senate in 2006. Goode represents Virginia and was narrowly defeated in November.

Harris may be the member of Congress who underreported campaign contributions. Wade took Harris to dinner at the posh French Georgetown restaurant Michel Richard Citronelle the year before her electoral defeat which cost $2,800, according to Harris' former political strategist Ed Rollins; members of Congress are supposed to report any gifts larger than $50.

Citronelle's fixed priced menu costs $155 alone. With "wine pairings," a meal is $230.

"Prosecutors drop tantalizing hints about an even bigger, ongoing investigation," Hettena notes. "Wade was debriefed in 2006 and provided 'moderately useful' background information in another 'large and important corruption investigation' that also has not yet resulted in any charges."

An element of particular interest that remains unresolved is who utilized escorts and limousines another convicted contractor provided and who attended private poker games at the Watergate hotel.

Brent Wilkes, another contractor who went down in the Cunningham affair, used the services of Shirlington Limousine.

"He was a winer and a diner," the company's owner told the Hill in 2007. "He liked to take people to eat. If a young lady gets in the car, or he asks us to pick up a young lady, we don't know who it is. We're drivers."

Shirlington sued the Department of Homeland Security after they dropped the firm as a contractor following the revelations.

Clarification: Harris was defeated in a run for the US Senate after she voluntarily gave up her House seat.