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Cunningham Details Kickbacks in FBI Interviews

Disgraced former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham lied to fellow lawmakers on a House ethics panel about selling his yacht in order to disguise kickbacks from a defense contractor, according to a summary

Disgraced former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham lied to fellow lawmakers on a House ethics panel about selling his yacht in order to disguise kickbacks from a defense contractor, according to a summary of an interview between the congressman and federal investigators.

Cunningham said he asked the House Ethics Committee in 2001 to review a sale of his yacht "Kelly C" to the defense contractor to avoid arousing suspicions when, in fact, there was no sale. He fabricated the transaction and lied to lawmakers about it to "cover his bases" and make $100,000 in kickbacks appear legitimate.

Cunningham detailed the arrangement in two interviews with prosecutors and government agents at his Tucson, Ariz., prison in February, a week before an indictment was returned against the defense contractor, Brent Wilkes.

Cunningham, a Republican, has not spoken publicly since going to prison in March 2006. He pleaded guilty in November 2005 to taking $2.4 million in bribes from Wilkes and other defense contractors in exchange for millions of dollars in government contracts.

The 11-page FBI summary of the interviews, part of a court filing dated Friday, details Cunningham's financial transactions with Wilkes and another contractor, Mitch Wade.

Wilkes has pleaded not guilty to bribery, fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. Wade pleaded guilty in 2006 to bribery.

Cunningham said he got into legislative "food fights" with his colleagues U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., to secure more than $100 million in federal funding for Wilkes' companies.

The former congressman, now 66 and in ill health, catalogued fancy trips, dinners and sports events he attended with Wilkes, much of which have been documented in court records. Cunningham described hiring prostitutes on luxurious Hawaiian getaways.

Cunningham said he helped arrange meetings between New York financier Thomas Kontogiannis and military contractor General Dynamics Corp. to broker a deal to sell F-16 fighter jets to the Greek government. The deal never materialized.

The interview summary was included in a filing by Ray Granger, an attorney for John Michael, a New York mortgage banker who has pleaded not guilty to laundering money for Cunningham's mortgage payments. Michael opposes efforts by federal prosecutors to keep court transcripts sealed in the government's case against Kontogiannis.

Kontogiannis, who is Michael's uncle, pleaded guilty in secret proceedings last February to illegally helping Cunningham finance the purchase of a $2.5 million Rancho Santa Fe mansion. Kontagiannis is expected to be called as a government witness in the trial against Wilkes and Michael, scheduled for September in San Diego.

The federal judge in the case against Wilkes and Michael ordered the transcripts made public, but government attorneys objected because they contain classified information. The case is before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The interviews were first reported late Tuesday by Copley News Service. Copley has also filed briefs with the appeals court in the case.