US: Red Lights on Capitol Hill

Publisher Name: 
Harpers

I reported last Thursday that Shirlington Limousine and Transportation, Inc., a firm allegedly used by defense contractor Brent Wilkes to provide prostitutes to ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham, is headed by a man who has a long criminal rap sheet and is also a contractor for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It was Mitchell Wade, another defense contractor who has acknowledged bribing Cunningham, and who is cooperating with investigators, who reportedly told prosecutors about Shirlington's relationship with Wilkes and the latter's alleged pimping scheme. (Wilkes's attorney denies the charge.)

Since my report, Shirlington's role in the case has been covered by national media including the San Diego Union-Tribune, whose reporting on the Cunningham case is indispensable, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, as well as by bloggers Jason Vest at POGO and Laura Rozen at War and Piece. I reported that Shirlington had won a $21.2 million contract from DHS last year, and the Post found a second contract from the agency, worth $3.8 million, awarded in 2004. Vest found yet another contract for Shirlington: $342,555 from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And Rozen unearthed a number of interesting finds, including an old Atlanta Journal Constitution article on poker parties that were apparently sponsored by Wilkes.

I've learned more about the Shirlington affair from a source familiar with the company's $21.2 million DHS contract for limousine and bus service. At DHS, the limousines operated by Shirlington are reserved for the most senior agency officials: undersecretaries, senior staff, and senior political appointees. (Department Secretary Michael Chertoff has a separate transport detail.) DHS plebes take a Shirlington bus to travel between the agency's facilities in and around Washington and Virginia; a bus will also drop employees at a Metro stop on the Red Line.

My source told me that under its multi-year, sole-source contract, Shirlington has office space in at least two locations: at the DHS building in upper northwest Washington near American University and at a downtown facility of the General Services Administration, a federal procurement agency. For DHS, Shirlington provides buses, and bus drivers, as well as limousine drivers for GSA-owned limousines.

Shirlington's president, Christopher D. Baker, has a criminal rap sheet that runs from 1979 to 1989. Cab drivers in the Washington area have told me that it would be all but impossible for a man with Baker's past to obtain a license to drive a taxi here, because applying for a license requires the provision of a criminal report and a set of fingerprints cleared by the FBI. Even a string of traffic tickets can lead to the suspension of a taxi license. In fact, being hired to drive a limousine under Shirlington's DHS contract requires a security clearance, which Baker, given his criminal record, would not be able to obtain. Yet Baker had no problem winning a sole-source contract from the DHS that has his company ferrying around town the most senior government officials charged with protecting the country from a terrorist attack. (Neither DHS nor Baker's attorney returned calls seeking comment.)

All of this raises questions. We know that, a few years after his last brush with the law, Baker was retained as Wilkes's exclusive limousine provider. So how did Wilkes and Baker start working together? Did Baker have any other political contacts that helped him win the contracts? And, if so, who?

I'll keep digging . . .

AMP Section Name:Corruption
  • 106 Money & Politics
  • 124 War & Disaster Profiteering