updated 10/26/2007 10:59:28 PM ET 2007-10-27T02:59:28

A defense contractor emphatically denied bribing former U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham as he took the stand in his own defense Friday.

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Brent Wilkes' attorney, Mark Geragos, surprised prosecutors by calling Wilkes to testify as the trial resumed Friday, after a weeklong pause while wildfires ravaged Southern California.

"Did you ever bribe him?" Geragos asked Wilkes, who took the stand in a gray suit and spoke in calm, measured tones through about five hours on the stand.

"No, I didn't," Wilkes replied. He later reiterated, "I never bribed anyone, I never asked anyone to do anything for any reason other than that they believed in the projects."

He has steadfastly denied prosecutors' claims that he bribed Cunningham with luxurious trips, meals and even a rendezvous with prostitutes at a Hawaiian resort in exchange for help securing nearly $90 million in federal contracts, mainly for digitizing documents. Geragos has said the transactions between Wilkes and the lawmaker were all legitimate.

Denies sex with prostitutes
Wilkes insisted he had never hired prostitutes for himself or the congressman, telling jurors that his nephew, an employee, had hired masseuses on a trip to Hawaii. Wilkes said he had not recognized the two escorts who testified for the government that they had been paid to join the men in the hot tub of their private bungalow at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel in August 2003. One of the women said she went upstairs and had sex with a man she identified as Cunningham after he fed her grapes while she sat naked in the tub.

"I never had sex with them," Wilkes said. Neither of the women who testified identified Wilkes in the courtroom.

Throughout his testimony, Wilkes blamed shady dealings with Cunningham on his nephew, Joel Combs, and his former colleague, Mitch Wade, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to bribing Cunningham. He said he only paid for a $4,000 meal with the congressman in Las Vegas because Wade stuck him with the check after ordering a $3,800 bottle of wine.

Prosecutor Phillip Halpern asked Wilkes whether he had told colleagues to deny any wrongdoing about their transactions with Cunningham.

"I believe you're referring to the phrase, 'Admit nothing, deny everything and make counteraccusations,'" Wilkes said. "It's a CIA saying. It's a joke."

Wilkes produced a handful of checks written to his company by Cunningham's campaign and political action committees to reimburse the lawmaker's trips on Wilkes' private jet, but said under cross-examination he did not know whether all of the lawmaker's trips were reimbursed. Wilkes added that under House rules it was up to Cunningham's office to pay the money back.

Dealings with other lawmakers
Wilkes also testified that while he most often approached Cunningham, he also had support from other lawmakers — including former Appropriations Committee Chair Jerry Lewis and Rep. John Doolittle, who gave up his seat on the appropriations panel after FBI agents raided his home in April.

Cunningham, 65, is in a federal prison facility across the street from the courtroom where Wilkes' trial is taking place. The disgraced congressman is serving more than eight years after pleading guilty in 2005 to accepting $2.4 million in cash, mortgage payments and other perks from defense contractors.

He has not been called to testify.

In February, Wilkes, 53, pleaded not guilty to 14 counts of conspiracy, bribery, fraud and money laundering. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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