Saturday, April 15, 2006

Cunningham's Friend Thomas Kontogiannis

Joe Cantlupe of the Copley News Service has a detailed examination of Cunningham co-conspirator #3, Thomas Kontogiannis. Unlike Mitchell Wade and Brent Wilkes, who personally gained millions from their criminal relationships with Cunningham, Kontogiannis' benefits from the $328,000 he provided the former congressman are much harder to characterize.
“It's not the standard bribe scenario,” said a Justice Department official who declined to be identified because the investigation is ongoing. “He had a lot of money. What went to Duke was chump change.”

Cunningham “introduced him to people. It was like he had a congressman on retainer,” the official added.

A former associate of the New York businessman said Kontogiannis thought Cunningham “was going to be a big guy some day – secretary of defense.” The former associate would speak only on background because Kontogiannis remains under investigation.

Said an FBI official: “Let's look at it this way. Duke Cunningham had power and no money, and Tommy Kontogiannis had money but no power.”

Kontogiannis appears to be a pretty sharp businessman, yet he believed that Duke Cunningham was on track to become the "secretary of defense?" Certainly, Cunningham was in a position to introduce Kontogiannis to people and to appear at functions when his friend needed to produce an important person.

The two men also visited the White House together. Kontogiannis had his picture taken with Cunningham at a White House reception, and friends of Kontogiannis say the businessman kept a photo of himself with Cunningham and President Bush in his house.

Building on their relationship, Kontogiannis joined Cunningham on a December 2004 trip to Saudi Arabia. They were accompanied by Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Riverside, who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, and Rancho Santa Fe businessman Ziyad Abduljawad, who paid for the trip.

Cunningham apparently was just a phone call away whenever Kontogiannis needed a letter written or a phone call made. Cunningham stepped into Kontogiannis' bribery case, writing a letter of support that also suggested that his friend, who handed a school official a paper bag containing a $50,000 cash bribe, was somehow the victim of "a political agenda."

Of course, there may have been some more tangible benefits to Kontogiannis from his relationship with Cunningham. It turns out that the Department of Homeland Security is a tenant in an office building that Kontogiannis owns in Rosedale, New York.

The main tenant of the four-story building where he works is the Department of Homeland Security's Citizenship and Immigration Services, which recently agreed to pay $1 million a year for a second 10-year lease.

New York state records show that the building is owned by One Cross Island Plaza Corp. Although New York does not require that corporations reveal the names of individual owners, an examination of other records shows that the officers once included Kontogiannis and his wife.

A million here, a million there.....