By PETE YOST
An ex-employee at a defense contractor pleaded guilty Friday to making illegal donations to the campaign of Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Va., marking the latest chapter in a congressional bribery probe.
Richard Berglund, who formerly supervised the Martinsville, Va., office of MZM Inc., faces up to a year in prison for engaging in a scheme with company owner Mitchell Wade to reimburse MZM employees for campaign donations. The scheme violates the Federal Election Campaign Act.
In February, Wade pleaded guilty to bribing former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, in exchange for help in getting $150 million in Defense Department contracts.
Wade and defense contractor Brent Wilkes were at the center of the Cunningham bribery case and the two business executives also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to curry favor with other lawmakers, including Goode and Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Fla.
Cunningham was sentenced in March to more than eight years in prison after pleading guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes.
Late last year in the midst of the Cunningham scandal, Goode’s campaign gave $88,000 of MZM-linked donations to charity. The Virginia congressman leads the list of those receiving contributions tied to the company, said the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign spending.
Goode, also a member of the House Appropriations Committee, was instrumental in persuading MZM to locate an office in Martinsville, Va., according to a news release issued by the Virginia governor’s office in 2003.
Asked for comment about Berglund’s guilty plea, Goode’s press secretary, Linwood Duncan, pointed out that the congressman had given MZM-related campaign donations to charity.
In March 2005, according to court papers, Wade gave cash to Berglund and asked him to use the money to finance contributions to the campaign of a congressman identified in the documents as "Representative A."
The donations were in the names of Berglund, his wife and MZM employees who worked in Martinsville under Berglund’s supervision.
Berglund provided $4,000 in cash to two employees and told them Wade wanted them to donate to the congressman’s campaign.
The dates, amounts of and names of donors to Goode’s campaign listed in Federal Election Commission records matched those given in the filings by prosecutors in the guilty plea by Berglund.
Berglund, 46, of Valrico, Fla., faces sentencing on Jan. 18, 2007 in federal court.