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Cunningham Figure Gave to Gov., Got 2 Board Seats

December 08, 2005|Dan Morain | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — A businessman tied to the bribery scandal involving former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham donated more than $70,000 to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign committees and received two gubernatorial appointments.

At Schwarzenegger's behest, Brent Wilkes, founder of the government contractor ADCS Inc., resigned Nov. 29 from the Del Mar Fair Board and from another panel that oversees the leasing of state land for racetracks, said Margita Thompson, the governor's press secretary.

Schwarzenegger appointed Wilkes to the Del Mar board in April 2004 and to the State Race Track Leasing Commission last April. A seat on the Del Mar board is a sought-after post given the panel's association with the Del Mar racetrack, among the most successful tracks in the nation.

Starting with the 2003 recall campaign, Wilkes, his wife and his companies have given $73,000 to Schwarzenegger's campaign committees, according to filings with Secretary of State Bruce McPherson. One of Wilkes' business associates gave $15,000 to the governor's 2003 campaign.

Ned Wigglesworth of the watchdog group TheRestofUs.org called on Schwarzenegger to return the donations.

"In light of Cunningham's plea agreement ... it is certainly incumbent upon the governor to answer whether these appointments were related to the contributions," Wigglesworth said. "At the very least it is the appearance of quid pro quo and at the very least the governor should answer questions."

When asked whether Wilkes' appointments were linked to the donations, Thompson said: "Absolutely not.... There is no connection at all."

Marty Wilson, a Schwarzenegger political aide who oversees the governor's fundraising, said that "at the present time" the money would not be returned.

One day before Wilkes quit the state posts, Cunningham, a Republican from Rancho Santa Fe, pleaded guilty to federal charges that he took $2.4 million in bribes and evaded more than $1 million in taxes. He also resigned from the House of Representatives.

According to Cunningham's plea agreement, Wilkes gave him more than $635,000 in bribes. Wilkes is not named in the Cunningham indictment or in the written plea agreement, but he is referred to as one of four unnamed co-conspirators, one of Wilkes' attorneys has said. That lawyer, Michael Lipman, did not return phone calls Wednesday.

Wilkes' company, ADCS, which is based in Poway, has received millions in federal contracts. According to the plea agreement, Cunningham pressured the Department of Defense to award contracts to ADCS, though it is not clear from the plea bargain that his intervention was pivotal.

Though ADCS appears to focus its efforts on winning federal contracts, the company also has done a small amount of business with the state. In 2001 and 2003, before Schwarzenegger took office, California selected ADCS as one of the vendors that could be hired to transform paper documents into computer images.

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Times staff writer Tony Perry contributed to this report from San Diego.

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