It started with the bribery indictment of California Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham, but before it's over, a sprawling investigation into a Pentagon contractor called MZM could snare some of Washington's most powerful inside players
An outcome, those who knew Wade early in his career say, that could have been easily predicted. In 1985, he took a minor bureaucratic job at the Pentagon, but by 1992, he had moved up to become a program manager there for a small tactical intelligence system slated for deployment to Europe. "The seeds of his greed were already apparent in that time frame," says Peze, who worked in that office briefly with Wade. "He was demanding favors from the contractors he was working with." It started off with penny-ante stuff: One contractor complained that Wade pressured him for upgrades from coach to first class on a trip to Europe, sources say.
The following year, Wade left the Pentagon, became a consultant, and created MZM Inc. By then, he was divorced from his wife, Colleen-his college sweetheart-after nearly eight years of marriage. After news stories broke about Wade's corrupt activities, Colleen, now a Baptist minister in Virginia, said that she never really knew the handsome poli-sci major she fell in love with. To her, Wade was just a dutiful government employee and a caring father to their three children, Matthew, Zachary, and Morgan. After the divorce, Wade didn't bother telling Colleen that he had named MZM after them. It was an early glimpse into the extraordinary secrecy and compartmentalization that would later become his hallmark.
MZM didn't report much revenue for the first six years of its existence. But then a confluence of events, capped by the 9/11 attacks, propelled Wade and MZM to center stage. Wade married a second time; his new wife, Christiane Shipley, came from a family of prominent investment bankers who trace their lineage in Maryland back to 1668. MZM employees describe Christiane as gracious, kind, smart, honest-a class act.
Wade's first break came in 2000, after Pentagon auditors documented problems on a contract involving Wilkes's company, ADCS. A senior Pentagon official had earlier discovered $750,000 in fraudulent billing for work done by ADCS-scanning and digitizing maps of the Panama Canal zone, which was to be handed over by the United States to Panama. The Pentagon inspector general wrote that two congressmen, including Cunningham, "pressured" Defense Department officials into funding the Panama project. Luque, Wilkes's attorney, says he was only a subcontractor, and "he knows his [bills] weren't improper." Nonetheless, Wilkes became persona non grata at the Pentagon and soon hired Wade, who was introduced to him by a military official, as his public face, in order to get more contracts, law enforcement sources say. That same year, Wade began his corrupt relationship with Cunningham.
All of this happened, oddly enough, around the same time that Wade experienced a huge personal loss-the death of his mother, Pearl, in April 2000. In September, Wade gave $5,000 to Wilkes's company PAC. Later that fall, just weeks before he received $10,000 from his mother's estate, MZM gave Cunningham's political action committee $5,000, according to estate and campaign records. The following January, Wade received an additional $40,000 from his mother's estate for "supplemental needs" for his ailing father's care, records show. Between March and December, Wade and MZM gave $11,000 to Cunningham's PAC. Wade's father died October 19. A week later, Wade established the MZM political action committee. A week later, Wade wrote a check for $50,000, which prosecutors say he laundered through a mortgage company controlled by John Michael, a New York financier. Michael and his uncle by marriage, Thomas Kontogiannis-a Long Island businessman and frequent contributor to Republicans-have been named as the third and fourth "unindicted coconspirators" in the Cunningham case. Court records show that Kontogiannis, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Greece and a multimillionaire, has two prior criminal convictions involving bribery. Cunningham interceded on Kontogiannis's behalf with a New York prosecutor and even found him a law firm to explore the possibility of a presidential pardon.