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
In exchange, "year after year," federal prosecutors in San Diego wrote in one devastating passage, Cunningham consistently favored Wilkes and Wade "when forwarding special appropriation requests." Not only that, the prosecutors added, Cunningham "overrode" other lawmakers in deciding which military programs should be funded, "lobbied" to cut funding for competing programs, and "pressured" and "bullied" Pentagon officials into selecting Wade and Wilkes for contracts and giving them "the maximum amount of public funding." The contractors not only specified their coveted programs to Cunningham but even "wrote his actual requests for him" that amounted to "scripts," the prosecutors said. "In short," they concluded, "Cunningham acted exactly the way one would expect of a congressman who had been bought for more than $2.4 million."
There was nothing subtle about Wade's quid pro quos. In July, MZM got a $140,000 contract to provide computer programming for the Executive Office of the President. The next month, Wade paid $140,000 for the Buoy Toy, which Cunningham renamed the Duke-Stir. ("I bought the boat," he said later, "not the lifestyle.") Wade parked the 42-foot yacht in Cunningham's boat slip for the lawmaker's use. "Cunningham grew to expect luxury," the prosecutors in San Diego wrote. "His coconspirators eagerly plied him with it."
And it paid off, handsomely. A month after he bought the yacht, Wade was awarded a five-year special contracting vehicle called a Blanket Purchase Agreement that allowed MZM to receive up to $225 million in contracts from Pentagon agencies without competitive bidding. The BPA, said Wainstein, amounted to a "blank check drawn on taxpayer funds." Investigators are now trying to determine whether Wade won the BPA illegally. Wainstein said Wade's "belt and suspenders approach" was to then bribe contracting officials in the Defense Department to ensure that "MZM could milk that account without interruption."
As the congressman's demands grew more audacious, and the contractor's lifestyle became more ostentatious, internal MZM documents show how Wade became consumed by thoughts of money, power, and secrecy. "Periodically," Wade wrote in a January 2002 internal memo titled "Public Description of MZM Inc.," "callers, visitors, or acquaintances will ask what kind of business we are in." In responding, Wade wrote, "it is important that we be consistent, yet we should not be giving out unnecessary information." In his "Letter from the President," in the first issue of the company newsletter, the Sentinel, published that summer, Wade marveled at how MZM had tripled in personnel and revenue in the first six months of 2002. The newsletter included a detailed article about federal campaign contribution laws, and a small article by Wade's personal aide, Jenny Lau, about the bestselling management book Who Moved My Cheese? Lau noted that "the moral of the story" was to adapt in life and find "new sources of cheese, when the cheese we have runs out."
Wade was eager for new sources of "cheese." A tall, thick-set man, Wade reminded some MZM employees of the character Francis in Pee Wee's Big Adventure. When Pee Wee refuses to hand over his shiny red bicycle on Francis's birthday, Francis pouts: "My father says, 'Everything is negotiable,' Pee Wee."