WASHINGTON — Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe) wrote to prosecutors on behalf of a New York developer who later bought his boat and helped finance his house and condo.
The developer, Thomas T. Kontogiannis, was under investigation in a bribery and kickback scheme involving school computer contracts when Cunningham wrote to the Queens district attorney on Oct. 19, 2000.
In his letter, faxed on congressional stationery to Queens Dist. Atty. Richard A. Brown, Cunningham suggested that Kontogiannis might be the victim of a political agenda against a school official also under investigation. The letter was not responded to or acted on, Brown's spokeswoman, Nicole Navas, said.
Cunningham wrote, "It has come to my attention that a case has been filed against Tom Kontogiannis in New York's 29th school district. It has been alleged that there may be a political agenda being waged against former Supt. Celestine Miller by a company allegedly not capable of completing a contract, and therefore Mr. Kontogiannis is being allegedly victimized."
A Queens district attorney's official read the letter to Associated Press but declined to be identified because it is not a public document. The letter was first reported Tuesday by the Washington Post.
Cunningham's business dealings are under investigation by a federal grand jury in San Diego. The inquiry began after reports last month that he sold his house to a defense contractor who took a $700,000 loss on it.
Cunningham has denied any wrongdoing but has announced he would not seek reelection to a ninth term next year.
Cunningham attorney Lee Blalack defended Cunningham's letter to the Queens prosecutor.
"Duke's letter to the district attorney did not urge any outcome or action of any kind in the investigation of Mr. Kontogiannis," he said. "It merely related Mr. Kontogiannis' concerns about a political agenda behind the investigation and asked the prosecutor for a response. There is nothing improper or unethical about such a request."
A day after Cunningham wrote the letter, indictments were filed against Kontogiannis and Miller. Both pleaded guilty to fraud charges two years later.
Kontogiannis could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Cunningham made $400,000 on the sale of his 65-foot flat-bottom riverboat to Kontogiannis. A company run by Kontogiannis' nephew and daughter helped Cunningham finance a condominium in Alexandria, Va., and a house in Rancho Santa Fe.