Susan Walsh  /  AP
Defense contractor Mitchell Wade walks out of federal court in Washington on Friday after pleading guilty to conspiring with former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham to bribe the lawmaker with cash, cars and antiques, and to help him evade millions of dollars in tax liability.
updated 2/24/2006 2:22:06 PM ET 2006-02-24T19:22:06

A defense contractor admitted Friday that he paid a California congressman more than $1 million in bribes in exchange for millions more in government contracts.

Mitchell Wade pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to conspiring with former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham to bribe the lawmaker with cash, cars and antiques, and to help him evade millions of dollars in tax liability.

“I take full responsibility for my actions,” Wade told Judge Ricardo Urbina after entering his plea to charges that carry a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

Cunningham quit Congress last year after he pleaded guilty to taking bribes from Wade and others.

Wade, former president of defense contractor MZM Inc. in Washington, D.C., also acknowledged making nearly $80,000 in illegal campaign contributions in the names of MZM employees and their spouses to two other members of Congress, who were not identified. The lawmakers apparently were unaware the donations were illegal, according to court papers.

Pentagon staff implicated
Prosecutors also laid out a second, separate conspiracy in which Wade was alleged to have paid bribes to a Defense Department official and other employees in return for their help in awarding contracts to his company. Wade pleaded guilty to this scheme as well. The Pentagon employees were not named in court filings.

Wade has been cooperating with federal prosecutors in Washington and San Diego in their ongoing investigation of the Cunningham bribery case, federal prosecutor Howard Sklamberg told the judge.

Wade is one of four coconspirators in the plea agreement and sentencing memorandum for Cunningham. The coconspirators are not named in court papers, but have been identified elsewhere.

MZM does classified intelligence work for the military. MZM’s government contracts soared from less than $1 million a year to tens of millions of dollars annually in recent years.

$140,000 yacht
Among Wade’s gifts to Cunningham was the purchase of the congressman’s California home for a price inflated by $700,000. Cunningham, 64, used the money to move into a $2.55 million, seven-bath mansion in the exclusive San Diego County community of Rancho Santa Fe.

A bribe of a $140,000 in the form of a 42-foot yacht, the Duke-Stir, brought Wade an offer of $16 million in contracts, according to Cunningham’s sentencing memorandum, which calls for a 10-year prison term.

Wade bought Cunningham $190,000 in antiques over two years from one store alone, records show. Cunningham used the antiques “to feather his nest in San Diego,” prosecutors said.

The former “Top Gun” flight instructor and Vietnam War flying ace is scheduled to be sentenced March 3 in U.S. District Court in San Diego.

Besides Wade, the three other coconspirators are: Brent Wilkes, founder of San Diego-based ADCS Inc.; New York businessman Thomas Kontogiannis; and John T. Michael, Kontogiannis’ nephew.

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