A federal grand jury conducting a criminal investigation has subpoenaed San Bernardino County records related to a Washington lobbying firm with close ties to Rep. Jerry Lewis, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, according to federal documents.
Federal investigators are looking into the relationship between Lewis (R-Redlands) and a Washington lobbyist linked to disgraced former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe), three people familiar with the investigation told The Times last month. The city of Redlands also received a grand jury subpoena.
Investigators are said to be particularly interested in whether intermingling between Lewis’ aides and lobbyist Bill Lowery’s staff led to favorable treatment for Lowery’s clients, sources told The Times. Lewis and Lowery have denied any wrongdoing.
The subpoena delivered to the county was issued “in connection with an official criminal investigation,” according to a cover letter from the U.S. attorney’s Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section in Los Angeles.
The investigation is part of a federal probe stemming from Cunningham’s conviction for accepting $2.4 million in bribes and favors from defense contractors.
In the May 17 subpoena, obtained by The Times, the Los Angeles Grand Jury asks for e-mails, memoranda, contracts and other records regarding the county’s decision to hire Lowery’s firm – Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White – as well as billing records and all other communications between the county and Lowery or members of his firm.
The grand jury also demanded “all documents relating to communications by and between you [San Bernardino County] and United States Rep. Jerry Lewis
The investigation is being conducted by the FBI, the IRS and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, a federal prosecutor stated in a letter that accompanied the subpoena.
San Bernardino County spokesman David Wert said the county would comply with the subpoena, which asks that the documents be turned over by June 13. Wert said he could not discuss the matter further at the request of the U.S. attorney’s office.
Thom Mrozek, the attorney’s office spokesman, said it was Justice Department policy not to comment on pending investigations.
In a statement Friday, Lewis said the department had not contacted him regarding an investigation. “Throughout my career, I have also made every effort to meet the highest ethical standards, and I am absolutely certain that any review of my work will confirm this,” the congressman said.
“This is just routine, ordinary, simple appropriations,” said Patrick Dorton, a spokesman for Lowery’s firm. “It is the same as work done every single day in Washington for counties and towns in every state in the country. It was done consistent with all the laws, rules, and regulations that govern Capitol Hill lobbying.”
From 2002-06, San Bernardino County approved more than half a million dollars in lobbying contracts with Lowery’s firm to represent the county in Washington. Several other Inland Empire cities also employ the firm.
Redlands City Atty. Dan McHugh could not be reached for comment, but told the San Bernardino Sun this week that the city also had received a subpoena seeking information regarding Lowery’s firm.
San Bernardino’s city attorney, James F. Penman, had no comment as to whether federal investigators contacted the city.
Lowery, a former congressman from San Diego, has worked with such clients as Brent R. Wilkes, a defense contractor who was identified by his lawyer as the unindicted “co-conspirator No. 1” in the Cunningham corruption case.
Cunningham was sentenced to eight years and four months in prison for accepting $2.4 million in bribes and favors from “co-conspirator No. 1” and his business associate, Mitchell Wade, who pleaded guilty to bribing Cunningham.
The Cunningham case has put the spotlight on “earmarking,” a practice in which lawmakers slip parochial and special- interest projects into spending bills, often at lobbyists’ behest late in the legislative process and without advance public notice.
Wilkes and his companies are among Lewis’ largest contributors, giving the lawmaker at least $60,000 in campaign contributions over the years. At the same time, Wilkes has paid Lowery’s firm more than $160,000 in lobbying fees.
Times staff writers Peter Pae and Cynthia H. Cho contributed to this report.