If you’re looking for insight as to what is was like in the courtroom when the jury pronounced Brent Wilkes guilty on all counts, I’m not the one who can give it to you. The Wilkes jury reached its verdict just as Judge Burns was sentencing a major Tijuana drug kingpin, so all the reporters were already in place. I rushed downtown, and I was a disheveled mess when I got there, but it was all over. Then I left too soon and missed the jury forewoman.
So I had a pretty bad day. But Brent Wilkes had a far worse one.
The 53-year-old defense contractor was found guilty on 13 counts of fraud, money laundering, conspiracy, and bribery. The jury found that Wilkes plied Cunningham with more than $700,000 in bribes in exchange for millions of dollars in government contracts.
Wilkes gambled everything on the only hand he had to play, and lost. He figured that if he could tell the jury his side of the story of his relationship with former Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, he could clear everything up. Then everyone would see how badly the prosecution had twisted things. But the prosecution just had too much evidence that contradicted him. Even if the jury wanted to believe the charming and funny defense contractor, they just couldn’t.
What bounces around and around in my head is the fact that Wilkes is no fool. He’s been a poker player since high school and he knew exactly what cards the government was holding — they included Cunningham, the prostitutes, and Wilkes’ own nephew — and he had to have known that the odds weren’t good. Once the government has you in its sights, it just will not quit. Far wealthier and more powerful men have pleaded guilty rather than take their chances before a jury.
So why didn’t Brent Wilkes?