Brent Wilkes Faces Life in Prison – Did All His Politicking Really Pay Off Asks Business Ethics Speaker Chuck Gallagher?

Brent Wilkes, founder of ADCS, Inc. devoted much of his career to developing political connections in Washington and elsewhere. It has been reported that he and his associates spent at least $600,000 on political contributions and $1.1 million on lobbying beyond the gifts mentioned in a plea agreement related to former Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham.

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What did Wilkes get in return. Well, Cunningham is reported to have helped in landing millions of dollars in federal contracts. Not bad. But, the question today is – is it worth the rest of your life in prison? At 54 years old…one must wonder what it feels like to face the very real possibility that you will not see another day of freedom.

Finding himself convicted of paying for bribes to former Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the Presentence Report filed in this case recommends a 720 month sentence. That’s a recommendation of 60 years in prison. According to guidelines, if he were to receive that sentence he would have to serve 51 years – giving him the practical opportunity to exit at death or 105 years old which ever comes first. I’d bet death.

Keep in mind, other note worthy white-collar criminals received the following sentences: (1) CEO Bernie Ebbers (25 years); (2) Jeffrey Skilling (24+ years) and (3) Randy “Duke” Cunningham (100 months or 8.3 years).

If Wilkes gets the max recommended, he would clearly claim the record for the longest prison sentence for a white-collar criminal.

The White Collar Crime Blog outlines how the Presentence Report recommendation was arrived at:

The sentencing recommendation is discussed in a filing by Wilkes (available below). Under the Guidelines, Sec. 2C1.1 governs bribery cases, and the starting point is an offense level of 18 because the bribe was paid to an elected official. The bulk of the sentencing increase comes from the estimation of the gain from the bribe, which requires application of the fraud loss table of Sec. 2B1.1. The PSR recommends a twenty-level enhancement, which means the gain to Wilkes and ADCS from the bribes was between $7 million and $20 million. Throw in a two-level increase for obstruction of justice — Wilkes testified at trial and was convicted on all counts by the jury, so there’s a decent ground for this enhancement — and another four levels for leadership role, and you’ve got the very top of the Guidelines (it only goes to 43) that calls for a life sentence.

The sentencing was originally set for January 28, but the PSR did not arrive in time so Judge Burns has pushed it back to February 19, thus meeting the statutory 35-day period between receipt of the Report and the sentencing. Wilkes’ counsel, Mark Geragos, will have to take aim at the gain amount, and unless that figure is reduced substantially, Wilkes is looking at a sentence that could be greater than any we’ve seen to date in a federal white collar crime case. In its response to the defense motion for a delay in sentencing, the government asked the district court to take Wilkes into custody on the original sentencing date because he is likely to receive a prison term and does not meet the requirements for bail pending appeal. If Judge Burns does sentence Wilkes to a significant prison sentence, it would not surprise me if Wilkes was ordered to be taken into custody immediately because of the severity of the punishment and possible concerns about flight in light of the sentence.

Facing life in prison would be daunting, especially since his former choices and actions allowed Wilkes to live a lavish lifestyle. Less than 10 years ago he purchased at $1.5 million home and a second home in the Virginia suburbs near Washington, D.C. According to an article in the San Deigo Union Tribute:

What landed Wilkes in trouble with federal prosecutors was his gifts to Cunningham. According to Cunningham’s plea agreement, “Co-conspirator No. 1,” gave $525,000 to Cunningham on May 13, 2004, to pay off the second mortgage on Cunningham’s home in Rancho Santa Fe.

Co-conspirator No. 1 also gave $100,000 to Cunningham on May 1, 2000, which went into Cunningham’s personal accounts in San Diego and Washington, D.C. And he paid $11,116.50 to help pay Cunningham’s mortgage on the Kelly C.

The plea agreement charged that in return for the payments, Cunningham “used his public office and took other official action to influence U.S. Department of Defense personnel to award and execute government contracts.”

Every choice has a consequence. It appears in Wilkes case he failed to recognize that only positive ethical choices will yield positive results. As a business ethics speaker (www.chuckgallagher.com) I often have the opportunity to speak to groups or business executives about the choices they make and the consequences that follow. Every choice has a consequence. If the choice is greed filled and lacks an ethical foundation – you can take to the bank (or perhaps prison) that the outcome will be less than desired. Moreover, the longer you go without experiencing a negative consequence, the more devastating the negative consequence will be.

Question:

What do you think about the Presentence Report recommendation for Brent Wilkes prison term? Fair and just?

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