JERRY LEWIS' NEW BRUSH WITH FAME-- AND THE REPUBLICAN EARMARK QUEEN
Jerry Lewis' straight guy act may seem funny to some but he's becoming a household name-- a la Cunningham mode-- for reasons other than his pithy wit.
Selfish and greedy Republican (and DINO) self-servers would rather talk about nonexistent, so-called "welfare queens" and "bankruptcy queens." But they scurry for cover like rats if someone whispers "earmark queen." And today's NY TIMES ain't just whisperin'. They shoutin'.
No, this isn't another story about Mark Foley (R-FL) or David Dreier (R-CA) or Jim McCrery (R-LA). Those are homophobic Republican closet queens and the kind of queen we're talking about today is Republicrook congressman Jerry Lewis' ex-queen of staff, Letitia Hoadley White.
"Letitia Hoadley White arrived on Capitol Hill 25 years ago as a 22-year-old receptionist with a bachelor's degree in fashion design, fresh from a job at Women's Wear Daily," writes David Kirkpatrick for THE TIMES. "When her boss, Representative Jerry Lewis, Republican of California, assigned her to work with the appropriations committee in 1986, Ms. White found her calling: cramming spending bills with narrow provisions to finance lawmakers' pet projects. When she left the Hill three years ago, she quickly became K Street's queen of earmarks, as those provisions are known, landing tens of millions of federal dollars lobbying for her clients. Now, Ms. White's success has drawn less welcome attention. Federal prosecutors are investigating whether Mr. Lewis and other lawmakers may have traded earmarks for illicit payments from lobbyists and contractors-- an outgrowth of the bribery indictment of Randy Cunningham."
Apparently Letitia has been singing to the feds about Lewis and his bagman, ex-far right congressman turned crooked lobbyist Bill Lowery. And she knows quote a bit about them and their criminal activities. You see, Letitia is Lowery's partner. As my old boss Russ used to always say, "Somebody's gonna get in trouble, somebody's gonna get in trouble."
While working for Lewis, Letitia "helped direct several hundred million dollars in contracts to clients of Mr. Lowery's firm. The firm and its clients, meanwhile, accounted for more than a third of the $1.3 million Mr. Lewis's political action committee has raised since 2000." That is called a kickback and it's illegal and, as I mentioned a day or so ago, one of the clients, San Bernardino County, has been subpoenaed by the Feds.
But mostly Lewis' criminal use of earmarks weren't done for counties. They were done for companies seeking business with the federal government, business he could control as chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. You wanna do business with the government? You slip some cash to sleazebag Lowery and he slips it to Lewis and you're one of the recipients of the $230 million in taxpayer money something like 40 of Lowery's (and Letitia's) clients got via earmarks.
The TIMES points out that the former receptionist has done really well for herself. "With her new income, Ms. White and her husband began to spread out, paying $1 million in cash in 2003 for a yellow townhouse across the street from the Capitol complex. They kept a vacation home on Chesapeake Bay, which Ms. White bought shortly before she left work on the Hill. The couple also owns a home in a Washington suburb." [Nice our bureaucrats live so nicely... 3 homes. Isn't that sweet?] Leaving Capitol Hill did not end Ms. White's work for Mr. Lewis, however. In the two years after she left, Mr. Lewis, then chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee [the committee where Cunningham made his mark on criminal justice], was in a fierce competition for the chairmanship of the House appropriations committee, which has authority over all discretionary spending. The Republican leadership had begun assigning chairmanships in part based on how much campaign money a member had raised for other members. Mr. Lewis and his rivals for the post, Representatives Ralph Regula of Ohio and Harold Rogers of Kentucky, each began a fundraising blitz. And each concentrated on the industry that had benefited from spending appropriated by their subcommittee, which in Mr. Lewis's case was defense." Yes it was and Lewis-- and his two best buds, Cunningham and another crooked southern California wingnut, Duncan Hunter-- had very powerful working relationships with al the free-spending defense contractors. That's why Cunningham is in jail and why Lewis and Hunter will soon be reuniting with him there.
"Ms. White," continues THE TIMES, in their tale about the earmarks queen, "leapt to the forefront of Mr. Lewis's effort, organizing a steady stream of fund-raisers for him and other Republicans at the Capitol Hill Club, a social venue for members of the party. 'We'd get e-mails from her asking us to go to her events about once a week,' an in-house lobbyist for a major defense firm recalled, speaking on condition of anonymity because he still lobbies Mr. Lewis. 'We all kind of laughed about it. But everyone in town noticed how active she was.' Mr. Lewis raised more than $800,000 for his political action committee in the 2004 election cycle and won the contest, upsetting the more senior Mr. Regula."
In 1994 Letitia had been involved in another scandal that raised large sums for the crooked, though then less discreet Lewis. It kind of predates the recent Republican hookergate/poker game scandal that helped cost CIA Director Goss to be dumped. The poker games were a way for crooked defense contractor Brent Wilkes to funnel cash into the hands of Republicans who made decisions about how money would be spent on projects relating to his businesses. He always "lost." They always won. Well, he won too-- hugely. The only losers were the public, who were fleeced by these GOP crooked reps for hundreds of millions of dollars. Anyway, way back a dozen years ago, ole Letitia was already using a pyramid scam to help rake in the dough for Lewis. Even though she got caught, it didn't slow down her meteoric rise to queen of earmarks (and, apparently DC-area real estate). "All pyramid games," opines THE TIMES, "inevitably swindle some players. But in Washington, the game also created the appearance of a different kind of impropriety: it was an opportunity for lobbyists to hand thousands of dollars to Congressional aides they sought to influence. One of the other players was Mr. Lowery, who had recently left Congress and set up his own lobby shop. Mr. Lowery likened Airplane [the cute name they called the scam] to 'an innocent poker game.' And Mr. Lewis stood by Ms. White. 'I try not to make any judgment about what people do in their private lives,' he told The Washington Post."
Measured in terms of cold hard cash, Lewis is probably the most corrupt person in Congress (now that DeLay's criminal activities have unraveled and he has been forced to resign, first as Republican Majority Leader and then as a congressman). And as Lewis' top aide Letitia had incredible power, mostly to wield on his behalf, although her own nest was apparently well-feathered too. "Ms. White was responsible for presenting earmark requests from him and other House members to the staff members who wrote the bills, and she sometimes acted as a gatekeeper to Mr. Lewis for those seeking money. She found herself fielding calls from scores of lawmakers and lobbyists, all seeking money for favored hospitals or military contractors. Mr. Cunningham was among the many members presenting earmark requests to her and the committee. And Brent R. Wilkes, one of the contractors said to have bribed Mr. Cunningham, [THE TIMES can be so fuddy-duddy; he's already pled guilty to that, so "said to have" is a little confusing] as well as Mr. Lowery, who lobbied for Mr. Wilkes, both lavished Ms. White with attention. They often bought her dinners and bottles of wine, two former associates of Mr. Wilkes recalled, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the federal investigation. 'She was the queen bee,' one said. Other lobbyists all over Washington also sought to cozy up to Ms. White because of her position on the committee staff. [Apparently dinners and booze wasn't all she got. I mean receptionists don't be million dollar homes all over the DC area.] By 1999, when Mr. Lewis had assumed control of the $300 billion defense subcommittee, Ms. White's influence with him had become a subject of some discussion on K Street. A small military contractor, Recon/Optical, which benefited from Mr. Lewis's earmarks, filed a lawsuit charging, among other things, that an official of Lockheed Martin had asserted that Ms. White 'controls' Mr. Lewis and that a friend of hers who lobbied for Recon had swayed her on its behalf. The suit said the Lockheed official had threatened to withhold certain payments unless Recon 'shuts up' Ms. White." Now the Feds are doing their best to get Ms. White to do the opposite of shut up.
SATURDAY EVENING UPDATE: LOOKS LIKE LETITIA HAS GIVEN THE FEDS A LOT TO THINK ABOUT
Yesterday's HARPER's Magazine has a nice follow-up on the continuing saga of Jerry Lewis and some of the crooks and scoundrels he's surrounded himself with over the years. This is a tale about how Trident Systems was kicking back boucoup dough to Lewis and his mob-- and helped ole Letitia finance a million dollar home right near Congress-- which was also the official address for some kind of political action committee run by Lewis' crooked stepdaughter, Julie Willis-Leon. The PAC, like Lowery's lobbying form, seems to exist primarily to funnel money to Lewis' criminal operation in return for providing earmarks (ie- taxpayer dollars) to businesses that
There have been charges from Trident employees-- a company in complete turmoil-- that Letitia was paid a percentage of what she (and Lewis) could swindle the government out of... a never-ending cycle of kickbacks upon kickbacks upon kickbacks. Trident has received tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money thanks to Lewis and his criminal ring.