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— Each new chapter of the bribery scandal that began last June with the unmasking of now-imprisoned former GOP congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham seems to bring a new local character to light, revealing to the nation the way business is done in San Diego.

First came Brent Wilkes, the Poway defense contractor, political donor, and San Diego State University backer. Wilkes had ties to a second defense contractor, Mitchell Wade, who pled guilty to bribing Cunningham. Wilkes is also suspected of paying off Cunningham, but he has not yet been charged. Mitchell Wade is reportedly spilling his guts to government investigators.

Six weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that Wade told prosecutors that Wilkes had arranged for a limo service to take prostitutes to "hospitality" suites at the Watergate and Westin Grand hotels in Washington, D.C., for Cunningham's enjoyment. The Feds are investigating whether other congressmen and government staffers partook of the feminine hospitality.

Among those implicated is Kyle Dustin "Dusty" Foggo, an ex-San Diego cop, SDSU grad, and CIA agent. A boyhood friend of Wilkes, Foggo had been appointed to the CIA's third-highest post by Porter Goss, who recently was forced out of his job by the president.

The latest San Diego link was first reported by the Washington Post on May 6: Jerome Foster, a downtown San Diego-based businessman. Foster was on the board of Shirlington Limousine, the company that furnished transportation for the alleged Cunningham assignations. Christopher Baker, Shirlington's owner, has a criminal history that reportedly includes felony charges for attempted robbery and car theft. Foster told the Post that he had befriended Baker at the Watergate Hotel when he hired Baker as a driver. Baker was in money trouble, Foster told the Post, and so he later agreed to join Baker's board in the role of "mentor." Baker, through an attorney, has denied having anything to do with the alleged Cunningham hookers.

In the past two years, Baker has gotten $25 million in contracts from the Department of Homeland Security to transport employees around Washington, D.C. Foster, who ran an energy-management business, had himself gotten contracts with the Navy in the early 1990s.

In 1998 Foster used the same lobbyist as Wilkes: former San Diego congressman Bill Lowery, whose roots in the local GOP establishment go deep. Lowery, who found himself enmeshed in the savings-and-loan scandals of the 1980s, is implicated in influence-peddling allegations against San Bernardino congressman Jerry Lewis, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Who is Jerome Foster?

In late May, Foster, a mild-mannered, 63-year-old African-American Republican, sat down for an interview. Foster worked on local antipoverty programs and later in community relations at Solar Turbines. In 1989, he and several others started a company called Pentech Energy, Inc., whose main business was developing power plants. Foster began the interview by describing his initial encounter with Christopher Baker, the owner of Shirlington Limo.

Foster remembered first meeting Baker during the early 1990s outside Washington's Watergate Hotel. "At the time I was doing some joint marketing with SAIC," he said. Science Applications International Corporation is a big Torrey Pines-based defense contractor. "And we were doing some joint marketing, making some calls with guys back in D.C. That was most of the time I spent there. That only lasted maybe two years at the max."

Foster said he was coming out of the Watergate to get a taxi, and Baker, who was driving a limo, said, " 'Well, I'll give you a ride.' ... And so he dropped me off, and he wanted to know, 'Can I pick you up?' I said, 'Well, it depends on what you charge,' or something like that. And he just started following me around." Foster laughed.

"I guess the first two or three conversations he had with me, [he said], 'It's very seldom I have the chance to talk with a black business guy.' Chris is African-American. I take the time to talk to him. He told me his background and that he'd had some problems with the law. I think one time he told me he was homeless. I really admired him. He's a guy that pulled himself by the bootstraps and trying to make ends meet.

"He had a Town Car -- it wasn't a new one -- and he had a limousine that was pretty old. He hung around the Watergate. He did a lot of business. In D.C. it's kind of like, if you know the guys out front, they take care of you, helping you get rides, clients, or whatever, business and stuff.

"And so, at the time, I grew very fond of him. He was almost like a son. He was trying to get his life together. Go to church. I never seen him take a drink. Naïve, but, in my estimation, a pretty straight guy. I had nothing negative to say about him.

"He was really proud of [his limousine business], really trying to make a go out of it. Sometimes at night he would just come and sit in my room and talk to me till nine or ten o'clock at night. Mostly it was about the business. He had a girlfriend I think he'd been with for years and, you know, at first I thought he might have been gay or something just to hang around me so much!" Foster laughed again.

"He would, like, if I was going out to dinner or something, he would take me and pick me up. We'd come up to my room for a little while, just sit and talk, or whatever. At first I thought it was a little strange. Then over a period of time, you know, he was just a kid to me. I don't know what his chronological age was, but his mental age was pretty young."

Incorporation papers filed by Baker uncovered by Washington Post reporters list Foster as a member of the board of Shirlington Limousine, but Foster said he has only hazy recollections of his involvement with the firm and couldn't recall its name, at first calling it "Sheraton."

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