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
The next year was MZM's 10th anniversary. Feeling sentimental, Wade had anniversary stickers affixed to all MZM correspondence, and he declared the company's growth "remarkable." At the annual MZM picnic, flying high, cigar in hand, Wade interrupted an employee softball game, grabbed a bat, and sauntered up to the plate. "He hit the ball like he's Babe Ruth," Rubin remembered. "Then without even running for first base, he ordered, 'Give me another one.' It was like, 'This game is mine; it's my rules; and, by the way, I don't have to run.'"
Flush with fat government contracts, Wade was flamboyant in nearly everything he did. He spent thousands of dollars building up his image as a patriot and philanthropist, sponsoring a breast cancer walk, establishing a fund to support the families of soldiers killed in Iraq, and, along with his wife, starting a nonprofit called the Sure Foundation, in the MZM building, to benefit children in war-torn nations. Cunningham's wife and daughter were on the Sure board. Investigators are now trying to learn whether Wade-unbeknownst to his wife and others-used the foundation to launder MZM profits.
Nothing symbolized Wade's showmanship and affluence like Christmas, when employees received gifts of spiral-cut ham and tiered boxes of Godiva chocolates in the mail. The Wades hosted a black-tie gala at the Watergate or the Four Seasons hotel, complete with MZM carolers, a jazz quartet, and one year even a 19-piece swing band. Employees sat at flower-and-candle-bedecked tables, laden with Cristal champagne and Christmas ornaments from Tiffany for the wives. MZM employees still remember with awe the size of the shrimp hors d'oeuvres. There were expensive door prizes, including cameras, flat-screen TVs, and exotic vacation packages. After dining, employees took turns paying tribute to the boss.
Cunningham was a regular fixture at the Christmas galas, as were top defense officials, other members of Congress, and veterans from the Iraq war, to whom Cunningham once presented rare silver dollars. After imbibing several of the select wines that he required Wade to provide, Cunningham recounted "stories of courage and perseverance" of how he shot down four enemy planes during the Vietnam War, according to a gushing account in the Sentinel, "before a rapt audience." But the story eventually lost its poignancy for some in that audience, who noticed how Cunningham always cried on cue at the same points in the narrative.
But not all was as it seemed in Wade's and MZM's glittering new world. At the Pentagon, and at the CIFA offices in particular, disenchantment with the company was growing. Wade had inserted so many of his people in strategic positions at CIFA that senior government officials were becoming uncomfortable. A case in point: MZM's general counsel, Michael Woods, and Bruno were working for Burtt and Hefferon with the title "special assistant." Woods declined to comment for this article, but Bruno says she and Woods walled themselves off from all contracting decisions and MZM matters. Their job, she says, was not to provide legal advice but to "narrow down issues of concern" to the Pentagon's Office of General Counsel. "So while Michael and I were lawyers and had legal experience," says Bruno, "we weren't practicing law." But one former MZM executive says the DOD general counsel had "massive heartburn" at the perceived conflict of interest and was worried that MZM contractors were "in essence acting as CIFA's general counsels," and tried to move quickly to replace Woods and Bruno with in-house counsel.