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Earle probes DeLay tie to California donor
Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau
December 14, 2005

WASHINGTON - The Texas prosecutor who obtained an indictment against Rep. Tom DeLay is now looking at connections between the former House majority leader and a defense contractor linked to the bribery of a California lawmaker.

But the lawyer for DeLay criticized the potential expansion of the criminal investigation involving the Sugar Land Republican as a fishing expedition with a political motive.

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, subpoenaed on Monday records of California businessman Brent Wilkes and three Wilkes-controlled companies that made a political contribution to a Texas fundraising committee set up by DeLay.

Late Tuesday, Earle also subpoenaed records from a civil lawsuit involving DeLay from a decade ago in which an ex-business partner accused him of lying.

Wilkes was described in a federal indictment as one of four defense contractors who bribed Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., who pleaded guilty and resigned in late November.

The subpoenas focused on a $15,000 contribution by a Wilkes subsidiary, Perfect Wave Technologies, to DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority.

The committee, known as TRMPAC, was formed to elect more Republicans to the state Legislature and pass a DeLay-backed congressional redistricting map. Under the new map, the GOP won 21 of the state's 32 congressional seats in 2004.

"This is a rabbit trail (Earle) is going down," said Dick DeGuerin, the Houston-based attorney for DeLay. "There is nothing there, but he is trying to do what he can to muddy the waters."

Kevin Madden, a DeLay spokesman in Washington, said, "Ronnie Earle's actions are bordering on comical conduct. Ronnie Earle is literally trying to make this up as he goes along. He has turned a three-year political vendetta against Mr. DeLay into a zany, careless subpoena bazaar."

A spokesman for Earle declined to comment.

DeLay-Wilkes connection

DeLay and Earle have been engaged in a legal struggle over the indictment, which accused DeLay and others of accepting corporate political donations, laundering them through the national Republican Party and returning them to state GOP legislative candidates. Texas law bans direct expenditures of corporate money on political campaigns.

A Texas judge recently threw out a conspiracy charge in the indictments and kept the money-laundering charge.

The connections between DeLay and Wilkes, detailed in the Houston Chronicle last week, revolved around legal political donations by Wilkes and his companies to DeLay, along with the hiring by Wilkes of a Washington lobbying firm started by a DeLay associate that also employed DeLay's wife, Christine.

Major political donor

Contributions by Wilkes, his wife and companies he controlled to DeLay's political committees equalled about $70,000 over the past few years.

Wilkes has been a generous donor to many lawmakers in both parties during the past 20 years, especially Republicans in leadership positions.

In addition, he raised at least $100,000 for President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign, according to records maintained by the nonpartisan watchdog group PoliticalMoneyLine.

The donations involving DeLay were mostly to his national committee, Americans for a Republican Majority.

Wilkes and his wife donated $25,000 to ARMPAC between 2002 and 2004. Another Wilkes company, ADCS Inc., contributed $20,000 to ARMPAC in 2002.

But Earle's subpoenas targeted the $15,000 donation to TRMPAC. That was the only donation to a political committee by Perfect Wave.

In addition, DeLay took three flights on a plane owned by Wilkes' private jet company, Group W Transportation. Each time DeLay reimbursed the company for those costs and disclosed the flight, according to records.

Civil suit subpoena

Earle's subpoenas also sought records from Max Gelwix, founder of Perfect Wave, now a unit of Wilkes Corp.

Another subpoena issued by Earle on Tuesday sought records from a lawyer for Robert Blankenship.

Blankenship sued DeLay and another man who he claimed improperly cut him out of a Houston-area pest-control business owned by DeLay and the other man.

The case was settled in 1995. But Blankenship's lawyer claimed DeLay had lied in depositions when the case was headed to trial. A DeLay spokesman at the time dismissed that charge as a politically motivated attack.

Earle subpoenaed the sworn statements of DeLay and others in that case.

His spokesman declined to comment on the reason for the subpoena.