Mitchell Wade, the man who bribed Randy “Duke” Cunningham and then did much to speed the congressman’s spectacular fall, is asking a judge to sentence him to a year of home detention for all the help he provided the government. Prosecutors don’t dispute that Wade was helpful, but they believe that four years in prison is more appropriate for $1.8 million in bribes.
Would Cunningham ultimately have been convicted without Wade? Probably, but Wade made it happen much, much faster. He was debriefed 23 times by government investigators and supplied them a searchable electronic database of 150,000 documents, including the infamous “bribe menu.” And Wade’s cooperation didn’t stop with Cunningham. He provided damaging evidence against several others, including his testimony at the bribery trial of his former boss, Brent Wilkes, who’s now serving time in prison.
A 42-page sentencing memo filed by Wade’s attorneys says he aided the government in its investigation “of at least five other members of Congress” who were under investigation for “corruption similar to that of Mr. Cunningham.” These no doubt include Virgil Goode and Katherine “Pink Sugar” Harris. Wade wanted to open facilities in their districts and made $78,000 in “straw” contributions to grease the wheels. Neither Harris nor Goode has been charged with wrongdoing.
Prosecutors drop tantalizing hints about an even bigger, ongoing investigation. Wade was debriefed in 2006 and provided “moderately useful” background information in another “large and important corruption investigation” that also has not yet resulted in any charges.
Wade ran a mid-sized defense consulting firm, MZM Inc., and was very well-connected in military intelligence circles. After college in 1985, he started out as program manager for a highly-secret Navy program, supporting Central American counterinsurgencies and counterintelligence work in Europe and Asia. He joined the Naval Reserves as an intelligence officer and was assigned to the Middle East/Africa desk at the DIA’s National Military Intelligence Center.
During the 1990 Gulf War and again in 1992, Wade’s supervisor was John McConnell, the current Director of National Intelligence. McConnell recommended Wade for accelerated promotion. “LTJG Wade is an outstanding officer, who will excel in the most demanding positions,” McConnell wrote. (Fitness reports 1 and 2) In 1992, McConnell was named NSA director. Wade started MZM Inc., his solo consulting firm, the following year, providing what his attorneys called “technical and programmatic assistance” to McConnell’s NSA.
So how did such a smart guy go so wrong? In a letter to the judge who will be sentencing him next month, Wade wrote that he “lost sight of the concepts of integrity and fair play” and started cutting corners to get ahead. “I realize that it was my pride, ego, and desire for power that led me down this terrible path,” he wrote.
Wade has lost his job, his career, his reputation and his marriage, and his $2 million legal team at WilmerHale has done a tremendous job of making him seem like a man who is trying to pick up the pieces of his life. It’s quite a contrast to Cunningham’s sentencing memo, which was a portrait of a war hero who had deteriorated into a man who couldn’t even buy himself a friend.
Wade’s sentencing is set for Dec. 15. Will it even make the news? I doubt it. Look at what just happened to our financial system. These guys are amateurs.