WASHINGTON – Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has his own security detail and driver, but all other senior Homeland Security officials must rely on a limousine company owned by a known felon whose car service has been riddled with tax and debt problems.
Shirlington Limousine and Transportation Inc. of Arlington, Va., holds a $21.2 million contract with DHS, even though its owner, Christopher D. Baker, has a rap sheet in Washington, D.C., that runs 62 pages long. Among the convictions on Baker's record are attempted petty larceny, attempted robbery, possession of drug paraphernalia and receiving stolen property. These convictions all came in an 11-year period between 1979 and 1989. The head of one government watchdog group calls the record troublesome.
"It boggles the mind that anyone who has this kind of rap sheet could ever get a dime from the Department of Homeland Security," said Keith Ashdown, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Shirlington Limousine operates out of two nondescript locations, a townhouse in Northern Virginia and a unit in a condominium complex in Washington, D.C. The DHS contract calls for 12 minibuses and 16 drivers to handle local travel and 10 additional drivers to chauffeur department executive staffers in Homeland Security-owned sedans.
Experts say federal law requires screening contractors with extensive criminal records like Baker's.
"With the kind of rap sheet that's been described in a case like this you'd expect to see the contractor possibly on a list of excluded parties, meaning that they might be temporarily suspended or even permanently debarred from doing business with the federal government," said Steven Schooner, a law professor at George Washington University.
A Homeland Security spokesman told FOX News that the department is not required to check the criminal backgrounds of heads of companies seeking a contract. Shirlington Limo drivers, however, were given security checks. The spokesman added that Shirlington Limousine did not appear on any government list excluding it from receiving a contract.
Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, will hold a hearing next Thursday on contracts, hiring processes and security clearances. He said he intends to bring up Baker's criminal record and other Shirlington Limousine problems, including a 1996 IRS tax lien and two recent court orders to repay unpaid debts.
Democrats say they have concerns too.
"If laypeople can find questionable reasons as to why the contract would not be awarded, surely a $21 million contract would be given more attention than what it was," said Rep. Bennie Thompson, ranking Democrat on the House panel.
The Department of Homeland Security's five-year contract began in October 2005. The department can cancel it at the beginning of each new fiscal year. So far, the DHS has listed its service from Shirlington Limousine as "meeting expectations."
Interest in Shirlington arose peripherally to another, larger case. A defense contractor who pleaded guilty in the bribery case of former Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham suggested that another contractor, Brent Wilkes, hired Shirlington Limo to move prostitutes to poker parties that were held for defense contractors, lawmakers and CIA officials. The parties were aimed at currying favor from government officials involved in the process of awarding lucrative federal contracts.
Cunningham is currently serving a federal prison sentence for taking $2.4 million from government contractors. Wilkes, an unindicted co-conspirator in the Cunningham case, has not been charged with a crime.
The poker parties were also attended by Kyle Dustin "Dusty" Foggo, the former No. 3 man at the CIA, who stepped down from his post on Monday. The CIA released a statement on Foggo's behalf last week acknowledging Foggo's attendance at the games held in area hotel rooms, but said nothing untoward happened while he was there.
FOX News' Major Garrett and The Associated Press contributed to this report.