Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2007 | In the fall of 2003, two investigators with California’s Fair Political Practices Commission came to San Diego to conduct a series of interviews related to campaign contributions by friends and associates of local defense contractor Brent Wilkes. The commission’s interest in Wilkes and his company, ADCS Inc., had been sparked by thousands of dollars in contributions made by his employees and associates to county Supervisor Ron Roberts’ unsuccessful bid for San Diego mayor in 2000.
The Roberts event represented a fraction of the money Wilkes raised for Republicans in California, Congress and the White House. He collected more than $100,000 for President Bush’s reelection, earning him the title of Bush “pioneer,” and hosted fundraisers for Rep. John Doolittle at his company offices. He served as co-chairman of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign fundraising in San Diego County in 2003. The governor rewarded him with an appointment to the Del Mar Fair Board the following year.
Wilkes’ closest ties were to Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham. The two were so close, prosecutors say, that they sat together in a hot tub in Hawaii in August 2003 with prostitutes hired by Wilkes. The former congressman is now serving more than eight years in prison after pleading guilty to accepting more than $2.4 million in bribes, including more than $700,000 from Wilkes, whose trial on charges of money laundering, fraud and bribery is set to begin this week in U.S. District Court in San Diego.
Back in 2003, however, the only agency paying attention to Wilkes was the Fair Political Practices Commission, California’s election watchdog. The FPPC’s investigative summaries, subpoenas and correspondence from Wilkes’ attorneys, contained in a 525-page file obtained under the California Public Records Act request, open a window into Wilkes’ political operations years before he became a central figure in San Diego’s homegrown congressional scandal.
The FPPC zeroed in on a fundraiser Wilkes had thrown May 31, 2000 for Roberts. The event was held at Wilkes’ 5,325-square-foot home in a gated community in Poway, the former residence of Chargers quarterback Stan Humphries. At the time, Roberts was the presumptive front-runner, fresh off a big primary victory. The party had been well attended; 500 invitations had been sent out. A band called Tribe of Judah entertained the guests while they nibbled on catered food and mingled by the pool. On its quarterly campaign statement, the Roberts campaign reported receiving $5,750 from Wilkes and 22 of his relatives, employees, or their spouses, who all gave $250 maximum contributions.
Wilkes and his associates ultimately gave more than $10,000 to Roberts, who lost in a close election to Dick Murphy, a former judge. It’s unclear what Wilkes was seeking from Roberts, beyond helping a friend get elected mayor. Wilkes’ company did not do business with the city or county of San Diego, and he didn’t raise money for any other state local candidate in 2000. (Roberts’ spokesman, Darren Pudgil, did not return an e-mail and a phone message left seeking comment.)