A New York businessman who once defrauded a public school district, Kontogiannis
went on to bribe the corrupt Congressman Randall “Duke” Cunningham, in return for
getting face time with President George W. Bush and the ruler of Saudi Arabia.
Kontogiannis admitted to handing Cunningham about $2 million– some of it his own money, some that he passed along for two corrupt defense contractors – in a plea agreement he made with federal prosecutors in February 2007. He pleaded guilty to money laundering and at that hearing, he implied he had knowledge about terrorism and the attacks of September 11th that he is providing to the government. Prosecutors said that Kontogiannis may be “cooperating with the government on matters unrelated to his case,” according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Though at first glance he seems to have received little in return, Kontogiannis, in the words of one prosecutor, essentially “had a Congressman on retainer.” Cunningham twice took Kontogiannis with him to the White House, advised the businessman on whether to seek a Presidential pardon for his fraud, and in 2004, invited Kontogiannis to accompany him on an official trip to Saudi Arabia. One of Kontogiannis’ many companies is a European oil company, and on that trip, Kontogiannis joined the Congressman in a meeting with Crown Prince Abdullah, who was then running Saudi Arabia as the nation’s regent. He has since been crowned King.
Kontogiannis also wanted the Congressman to help him sell fighter jets to Greece.
Cunningham, (R-California), pleaded guilty to bribery and corruption charges in 2005 and was sentenced to 8 years in prison. Kontogiannis pleaded guilty to one count of knowingly engaging in monetary transactions involving property associated with unlawful activity. The awkwardly named federal charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Kontogiannis is estimated to be worth $70 million. The FBI revealed in 2007 that Kontogiannis had not filed a tax return in six years.
Cunningham, (R-California) and Kontogiannis began trying to help one another out in 2000. The businessman was under investigation for overcharging a Queens school district for substandard computers, then kicking back some of his fraudulent profits to school officials. Cunningham wrote a letter to the prosecutors defending Kontogiannis, suggesting he’d been “victimized” by a “political agenda.” It didn’t help much. Kontogiannis ultimately pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors in connection with the fraud, and was ordered to repay the money.
In December 2001, Kontogiannis began to return the favor by wiring $200,000 into an escrow account that Cunningham later used to buy a condominium in Arlington, Virginia. Later, he would wire $70,000 directly to Cunningham’s bank account. By then, Kontogiannis was casting about Washington for advice on how to seek a presidential pardon in the school fraud case.
In 2002, Kontogiannis bought Cunningham’s boat, the “Kelly C,” for $600,000 – three times what Cunningham paid in 1997, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
In 2004, Kontogiannis joined with the defense contractors Mitchell Wade and Brent Wilkes to bribe Cunningham. In their respective plea agreements, Wade, Cunningham and Kontogiannis all admit they conspired to hide the fact that they were paying off a mortgage on Cunningham’s house worth more than $1 million.
According to the plea agreements, Wade paid Wilkes nearly $6 million for computer services that were worth “considerably” less than that. Wilkes then wired $525,000 to a mortgage company owned by Kontogiannis. In August 2004, Wade sent two checks to that same mortgage company worth $500,000. Kontogiannis then took over the mortgage payments on a home owned by Cunningham for about 8 months, or until his payments totaled more than $1 million.
Wade has admitted bribing Cunningham in exchange for more than $150 million in defense contracts and is awaiting sentencing. Wilkes’s company, ADCS Inc., had won $6 million in defense contracts shortly before he sent that money to Kontogiannis. He was indicted for fraud and bribery in February 2007.
Shortly after he started paying Cunningham’s mortgage, Kontogiannis accompanied the congressman on a trip to Saudi Arabia. Though Cunningham described the trip as diplomatic, Kontogiannis – who owns an oil company in Europe – was allowed to sit in on meetings with high ranking Saudi officials. Fellow Republican Congressman Ken Calvert was also on that trip, and he later told a newspaper in his home district in California that had he known about Kontogiannis’ previous convictions, “I wouldn't have felt very comfortable.”
The trip was paid for by California real estate developer Ziyad Abduljawad. Abdjuljawad’s father Salahuddin is one of 15 men on the so-called Golden Chain, the list of Al Qaeda’s founding, most generous donors. SEC filings also show that Ziyad Abduljawad is an officer of a company called Ellumina LLC, which owns shares of SYS Technologies, an information technology company with hundreds of millions in contracts with the Pentagon and Homeland Security.
Though Cunningham’s plea agreement says that he “used his public office and took other official action” to benefit Kontogiannis, prosecutors don’t say what those actions might have been. Unlike Wade and Wilkes, Kontogiannis didn’t receive lucrative contracts in return for his generosity to Cunningham. Instead, one investigator suggested to the San Diego Union-Tribune, he may have viewed his favors to Cunningham as long-term investments.
“Let's look at it this way,” a federal investigator told the newspaper. “Duke Cunningham had power and no money, and Tommy Kontogiannis had money but no power.”
- Imprisoned Duke Tells of Scope of Corruption, San Diego Union-Tribune, July 18, 2007 (Kontogiannis – fighter jets, tax returns)
- Cunningham Figure Says He Was Trying to Help Government, San Diego Union-Tribune, August 31, 2007: http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/politics/20070831-9999-1n31tommyk.html
- Kontogiannis’ role in the Cunningham scandal, and Cunningham’s role in Kontogiannis’ 2002 bid-rigging conviction, explained at TPMMuckraker: http://tpmmuckraker.com/kontogiannis.php
- Cunningham financier admits role in scandal: Help with home buying revealed in guilty plea: http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/politics/20070615-9999-1n15tommy.html
- Kontogiannis met Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, also White House: http://www.tpmmuckraker.com/archives/000391.php
- An article in a Queens neighborhood paper about Kontogiannis’ guilty plea: http://www.queenspress.com/archives/coverstories/2002/1025/coverstory.htm
- New York Times on the Miller-Kontogiannis investigation: http://select.nytimes.com/search/restricted/article?res=F70910FC3D590C7A8EDDA00894D8 404482
- San Diego Union-Tribune unmasks Kontogiannis as “Co-Conspirator No.3”: http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/politics/20060415-9999-1n15tommyk.html
- Union-Trib reports on Kontogiannis’ bribes of Cunningham, and what he hoped for in return: http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/20050705-9999-1n5duke.html
- GovExec.com on Ziyad Abduljawad, Cunningham and Kontogiannis: http://www.govexec.com/features/0206-01/0206-01na1.htm
- San Diego Union-Tribune timeline on Cunningham scandal: http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/politics/cunningham/20060304-9999-lz1n4duke.html< /li>
2001-2002 -- Three donations totaling $2750 to National Republican Congressional Committee
2004 – One donation for $2K to NRCC
2000 – One $1K donation to Rick Lazio’s senate campaign
1998 - $850 to NRCC
1996 - $250 to NRCC
2002 – Georgia Kontogiannis donated $300 to Cunningham’s campaign
2000 – Georgia Kontogiannis donated $1,000 to Cunningham’s campaign
From Cunningham’s plea:
02/27/2002 - $10K to Cunningham’s bank account
09/18/2002 - $20K to Cunninham’s bank account
11/22/2002 - $40K to cunningham’s bank account
12/27/2002 to 05/27/2007 - $58,674.90 to mortgage for Cunningham’s yacht, the KellyC
08/25/2004 – Conspirator No. 2 paid $329,000 to Cunningham’s company through Kontogiannis’ company. And 171,000 the day before
- http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/04/AR2005070400967_pf.h tml
- Hoekstra’s invite: http://www.warandpiece.com/blogdirs/003830.html
- Wade’s plea agreement: http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/docs/wade-statement-of-offenses/?resultpage=2&< /li>