On a lavish, weeklong Caribbean cruise last year, software entrepreneur Warren Trepp wined and dined friends and business partners aboard the 560-foot Seven Seas Navigator.
Among Mr. Trepp's guests on the cruise ship: Rep. Jim Gibbons of Nevada and his family. The two men have enjoyed a long friendship that has been good for both. Mr. Trepp has been a big contributor to Mr. Gibbons's campaigns, and the congressman has used his clout to intervene on behalf of Mr. Trepp's company, according to congressional records, court documents and interviews. The tiny Reno, Nev., company, eTreppid Technologies, has won millions of dollars in classified federal software contracts from the Air Force, U.S. Special Operations Command and the Central Intelligence Agency.
At a time of rising concern over lawmakers who direct or "earmark" federal spending to their supporters and business partners, a growing part of the budget is shielded from scrutiny. This is the "black budget," mostly for defense and intelligence, which is disclosed only in the vaguest terms. The ties between Mr. Trepp and Mr. Gibbons raise questions about an influential politician in America's fastest-growing state, and also offer a rare glimpse of contracts in this secret budget being awarded to a politically connected businessman without competitive bidding.
Mr. Gibbons, a 61-year-old Republican, has been elected to five terms in the House and has served on the Intelligence and Armed Services committees. A former combat pilot and decorated Vietnam veteran, he is stepping down at the end of this term and is running for governor of Nevada in next week's election. His wife, Dawn, ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for the House seat being vacated by her husband.
Mr. Gibbons is in a tight and bitterly fought race. He held a double-digit lead until two weeks ago, when a cocktail waitress said he accosted her after a night of drinking. Mr. Gibbons has forcefully denied the claim, which is unproven, but details of the case have been page-one news in Nevada, and his lead slipped to six points in a weekend poll.
Mr. Trepp, 56, is known on Wall Street as the one-time chief trader for Michael Milken at Drexel Burnham Lambert, which collapsed in 1990 following a criminal investigation of junk-bond abuses.
Because this is front-page news in the most conservative of financial newspapers, the tide is indeed turning.
If only its ostrich-headed editorial board would read its own newspaper, maybe the finger-waggers of the Wall Street Journal would learn something.