updated 6/15/2006 11:45:26 PM ET 2006-06-16T03:45:26

A limousine company involved in congressional prostitution and bribery allegations got a Homeland Security contract after then-Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham interceded on the company’s behalf, the company’s president has told lawmakers.

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The statement by the president of Shirlington Limousine was made in an affidavit discussed at a House Homeland Security subcommittee hearing Thursday.

It prompted renewed protests from lawmakers about the Homeland Security Department’s awarding of two contracts to Shirlington despite the company’s history of problems.

Committee Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., noted that Shirlington president Christopher Baker had a criminal record and business dealings with a defense contractor named as an unindicted coconspirator in the prosecution of Cunningham.

“And then we find out that the congressman at the center of all of this sends a letter on behalf of this limousine company. If that doesn’t raise issues, if that isn’t more than a series of coincidences, I don’t know what is,” King lectured government witnesses.

Cunningham is serving more than eight years in prison after admitting accepting $2.4 million in bribes from the defense contractor and others. Federal officials are investigating whether the contractor also supplied the California Republican lawmaker with prostitutes and limousines from Baker’s company. Baker did not testify Thursday because a federal grand jury investigation is under way.

Homeland Security defends contracts
DHS Chief Procurement Officer Elaine Duke said department officials turned up no evidence they actually received a letter from Cunningham except for a reference to it in an e-mail from the limousine company.

She said Shirlington got the two contracts through normal procedures — including one last October for up to $21 million over five years to transport department employees around the Washington, D.C. area.

No background check was performed on Baker because the department doesn’t perform such checks on company owners, and contracting officers did not learn of Shirlington’s problems with other contracts, including one terminated by Howard University over poor service, Duke said.

“I have no evidence that there was any type of outside influence,” Duke said.

“If there’s a reference to a letter, (Cunningham) is involved and DHS has not been truthful,” King said.

Outside the hearing, King questioned the department’s failure to find Cunningham’s letter. “Did somebody clean out the file?” he asked.

Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said that never happened.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., also questioned the timing of Shirlington’s first Homeland Security Department contract, in April 2004. He said Shirlington had a proposal drafted months before the contract was even bid and ended up being the only qualified bidder.

“That strikes me as very odd,” Rogers said. “It really raises concerns that maybe there was some manipulation of the process.”

Knocke said there wasn’t.

A ‘plain vanilla recommendation’
An attorney for Baker, Michael York, said his client could not find a copy of Cunningham’s letter but that it was a “brief, plain vanilla recommendation” that Cunningham wrote based on his familiarity with Shirlington.

Baker acknowledges providing transportation services for Cunningham and defense contractor Brent Wilkes but denies any knowledge of or involvement in illegal or illicit activities, York said. He said Baker is cooperating with the investigation and has testified to the grand jury.

An attorney for Cunningham did not immediately return a call for comment.

The committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, wrote King on Thursday requesting that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and his deputy Michael Jackson be called — and subpoenaed if necessary — to answer questions on “the overwhelming evidence of waste, fraud, abuse, and incompetence” at the department, including the failure to find Cunningham’s letter.

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