Opening Statements Continue In Trial Of Alleged Cunningham Briber

A contractor accused of bribing former U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham relied on the congressman to bully Pentagon employees into paying for unsatisfactory work, a federal prosecutor told a jury Tuesday.

Pentagon officials were unhappy with Brent Wilkes' work in 2001 to scan documents and didn't want to pay for it, said Phillip Halpern, an assistant U.S. attorney. Cunningham prevailed on them to pay $4 million.

Wilkes has pleaded not guilty to charges that he bought Cunningham's assistance in securing millions in federal contracts by giving the congressman more than $700,000 in cash and perks that included exotic vacations, private jet flights and prostitutes.

The prosecution said in its opening statement Wilkes got Pentagon contracts in return.

"It's not about a single meal or a single payment," Halpern said.

"You're going to find that Mr. Wilkes bought the congressman for a series of gifts, of payments, that extended into the hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Wilkes' attorney, Mark Geragos was expected to begin his opening statement later Tuesday.

He has argued at earlier hearings that his client acted legally in cultivating his social ties to the congressman and was trying to create a favorable business climate for his Poway-based company, Wilkes Corp.

Wilkes, 53, is the first person to stand trial in the Cunningham case, the largest of several Congressional corruption scandals to have emerged in recent years.

Wilkes faces 14 counts of conspiracy, bribery, fraud and money laundering.

If convicted, Wilkes could be sentenced up to 20 years in prison.

Former Cunningham staffers, senior Pentagon officials and Wilkes' nephew, a former employee of Wilkes Corp., are expected to testify for the government.

Cunningham, who has been cooperating with prosecutors, may also be called to the stand.

Cunningham, a San Diego Republican who was elected to eight terms, is serving more than eight years in federal prison after pleading guilty in 2005 to accepting $2.4 million in bribes from Wilkes and others.

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