I'm both gratified and frustrated. Gratified, because yesterday's post on the shadowy Brent Wilkes -- the man who bribed Duke Cunningham -- received a nice amount of attention. Frustrated, because the mainstream media still doesn't get it
Take, for example, this story in the Mercury News
In what would be an audacious abuse of that nexus of money, power and influence, two defense contractors now stand accused of bribing Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif. - a power on the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee - in exchange for top feed at the Pentagon trough. Cunningham resigned from Congress this week after pleading guilty to accepting $2.4 million in bribes, including a Rolls-Royce and a $7,200 antique Louis-Philippe commode.
That's fine, as far as it goes -- but the matter goes much further. Readers of the Mercury News will receive the impression that the companies which made the pay-offs have nevertheless provided useful services to the DOD.
That's not true. For the most part, we are talking about a series of fake companies under the control of one man: Brent Wilkes.
While I believe that the Wilkes Corporation (also known as ADCS and Group W Advisors) intended to hire enough people to give his firm a more convincing veneer of legitimacy, the available evidence indicates that Wilkes' company existed primarily as a way-station for political pay-offs.
Remember the go-go days of the internet? Remember when a snazzy web page could make a tiny, under-financed company appear to be a massive conglomerate -- even when the firm conducted little actual business?
Update that scenario to the post-9/11 era, and you have the Wilkes corporation. Apparently, they did provide the military with document services -- which means, basically, that they scanned a lot of hard-copy pages that had been yellowing in file drawers. For example -- and this may be the only
example -- ADCS worked on a project involving digitizing documents related to the building of the Panama Canal.
And Brent Wilkes' wife Regina had her own catering enterprise.
If you can discover anything else of practical value that the Wilkes family of firms actually did, let me know.
Is the Pentagon truly willing to pay three-quarters of a billion dollars to anyone who wants to run some old docs through a scanner? I know quite a few people who would volunteer to take that gig... The invisible empire.
I still have yet to discover any evidence that the other "defense-related" enterprises operating under the Wilkes umbrella were genuine businesses.
"Group W Media," the advertising agency with no discernable clients, was a front for something
-- I don't yet know what. "Group W Transportation" amounted to a time-share arrangement involving a Lear jet. "Al Dust Properties" and "Group W Holdings" supposedly owned properties -- but I can't trace any holdings beyond the impressive building which the Wilkes Corporation called home. (It's now up for auction, by the way.) MailSafe Inc. supposedly offers "mail decontamination, digital capture, and electronic distribution to government and commercial entities." But the web site has disappeared, and the company seems to have left zero imprint on corporate America. Where is the evidence that it actually provided any services to clients?"PerfectWave Technologies"
has (or had) what seems, at first, to be an impressive web page advertising speech recognition devices for the military. (That page is really little more than a ghost, since the official Wilkes Corp. site no longer points to it.) Look closer: The site does not specify any PerfectWave products. Neither do we encounter any named personnel or development teams. No order information. If this company makes battlefield-ready high-tech equipment, why doesn't the the web site mention any departments, managers or employees? All we get is a single phone number and a fax number. Now conduct a Google search: Aside from channeling funds to politicians, PerfectWave hasn't done
anything to warrant a mention.
"Pure Aqua Technologies" another Wilkes operation, seems to be pure snake oil. No address, no telephone number, no nothing -- except this stupid web page
, which is a joke. Nevertheless, "Aqua" managed to pass some green around Washington.Ghost locations.
Supposedly, Wilkes has an office building in Honolulu, which is the home of yet another subsidiary: AkamaiInfoTech. They once had a nifty web page
, which has disappeared. But what actually goes on there?
The Lycos directory does not indicate that a business called Akamai Info Tech has ever existed in Honolulu. However, there is a company called ADCS on the big island, in a surprisingly remote location. The map function places Wilkes' firm near, but not on, Booth
Road. (Believe it or not!) It's in a very rural area at the foot of Mt. Tantalus (named for the figure from Greek mythology
who "was uniquely favored among mortals since he was invited to share the food of the gods. However, he abused the guest-host relationship...").
People creating fake businesses or addresses have been known to set up mailboxes in rural locales.
We do have a phone number for ADCS Honolulu: (808) 597-9188. That number is not operational.
In short, we have no street address, no web page, and no other mention of that phone number on any page known to Google. Was this "branch office" ever anything more than a mail drop? I doubt it.
The other branch office is in Chantilly, Virigina. In this case, we do have an address and a phone number: 14020 Thunderbolt Place, Suite 200; Chantilly, VA 20151; (703) 234-9700. There's even a contact person: Gina DiPilla. But nobody answered when I called at 11 a.m. (EST) on a business day. All web links for ADCS Virginia go straight back to the main Poway site.
Clearly, ADCS once performed some
kind of service at this location -- but what, precisely, did it do? ADCS would seem to occupy a smallish office on the second floor; it's hard to believe the company was really looking to hire "team leaders"
and engineers, despite the advertisement appearing on the main site. The web sites.
Wilkes did have a talent for creating web sites; one must grant that. A kind reader helped dig up some of the sites that aren't so easily discovered:
Of course, it is not at all uncommon for businessmen to buy up web names which they may never use. However, many of these sites point to more "Potemkin village" firms -- fake companies obviously designed to rake in taxpayer dough for services un
Take Archer Logistics
: The site paints a portrait of a firm which deserves to be ranked alongside Lockheed and Boeing. But the contact info goes to that same small second-story ADCS office space in Chantilly, VA. And no other sites on the web offer any clue that Archer has ever provided any branch of the military with any actual service or piece of equipment.
The web site for Liberty Defense Technologies
presents no information whatsoever: All one encounters are fields for username and password. What was the purpose of this site? One can only guess.
WilkesTechnology no longer has a working web page, if ever it did. OCDLLC
seems to be another company that doesn't actually do anything. The Poway Mafia
is just plain cute. Acoustical Communications Systems
, like PerfectWave, is another site that seems impressive at first -- until you try to discover what products they offer or who does what. As near as I can tell, the firm seems
to have had something to do with loudspeakers. Theoretically.Final questions.
The Cunningham case was outrageous enough when it was about bribery. But the bribes to Cunningham cost each taxpayer less than a penny
; the frauds committed by Brent Wilkes sucked dollars
out of each and every wallet in this land. Personally, I would have considered my share of that money better spent on a nice chicken sandwich -- or on providing services to the needy. I bet you feel likewise.
So why won't the media pay more attention to Brent Wilkes?
And why couldn't the Pentagon double-check where the money went? Surely someone
in that famous five-sided building could have pored through those websites and spotted the obvious clues indicating a sharpster at work. Why wasn't the public warned that hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars went out to a con artist?
How many other crooks like Wilkes have helped to empty our national treasure-house? Why is there no money for armored Humvees in Iraq, but plenty of cash for right-wing Republicans with connections?
And when will the mainstream media stop pretending that Wilkes' many phony-baloney "businesses" were anything other than web-based cons?