Rep. Jerry Lewis caught up in Cunningham scandal

The U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles has opened an investigation into House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis and his dealings with a lobbyist with connections to disgraced former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, a person familiar with the situation said Thursday.

Lewis, R-Calif., denied any wrongdoing.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the confidential nature of the investigation, said subpoenas had been issued, but could not say to whom.

The investigation is related to the ongoing probe stemming from the scandal involving Cunningham, the source said. The former Republican congressman from California pleaded guilty in November to taking $2.4 million in homes, yachts and other bribes from defense contractors and others. He is serving a prison term of eight years, four months.

The investigation into Lewis was first reported Thursday by the Los Angeles Times.

“Neither I nor any of my staff has been contacted by the Department of Justice with regard to an investigation into my congressional service,” Lewis said in a statement.

“I am angered and frustrated by anonymous sources, either inside or out of the Justice Department, who would imply to journalists that an investigation has been launched when no suggestion has been made that an investigation is needed,” Lewis said.

The lobbyist involved is Lewis’ longtime friend Bill Lowery, a former congressman from San Diego who served on the Appropriations Committee with Lewis before leaving Congress in 1993.

Copley News Service has reported that Lewis has approved hundreds of millions of dollars in federal projects for Lowery’s clients.

Those clients have included ADCS Inc., a San Diego defense contracting firm founded by Brent Wilkes, an unindicted co-conspirator in Cunningham’s corruption case.

Wilkes and ADCS, along with Lowery and some of his other clients, all have donated heavily to Lewis over the years.

“I have never, under any circumstances, told or suggested to someone seeking federal dollars for a project that they would receive favorable treatment by making campaign donations,” Lewis’ statement said. “If I learned that anyone on my staff made such a suggestion, they would no longer be working for me.”

Lewis also said he never recommended lobbyists to constituents, or paid attention to who was lobbying for which projects. Lewis’ committee controls much discretionary spending and members have a powerful role in determining “earmarks,” or money dedicated to specific projects.

“I welcome a thorough review of these projects by anyone,” Lewis said.

He added, “The standards of integrity I have followed in my career are a direct repudiation of the kind of behavior displayed by Mr. Cunningham.” Cunningham and Lewis served together on the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense.

Messages left for Lowery and officials at his lobbying firm were not immediately returned Thursday.

The ties between Lewis and Lowery, whom Cunningham replaced in Congress, include staffers who have worked for both of them. According to the Times, Appropriations Committee deputy staff director Jeff Shockey worked first for Lewis, then went to work for Lowery in 1999, and returned last year to Lewis’ staff _ getting $600,000 in severance payments from Lowery’s firm.

A message left for Shockey was not immediately returned Thursday.

Another Lewis aide, Letitia White, reportedly became a lobbyist for Lowery in 2003.

© 2006 The Associated Press