Considering a campaign donation to a congressional candidate? Hunter Duncan may make you stop and think twice.
A federal prosecutor said he plans to ask for at least a year in prison for Hunter, who pleaded guilty today to misusing $250,000 in campaign funds.
Hunter, who had fought the allegations for more than a year, showed no emotion in the courtroom and only spoke in affirming his guilty plea.
Outside, he offered a brief statement, saying, ‘I failed to monitor an account for my campaign spending. I made mistakes and that’s what today was all about.’
The California Republican who was first elected in 2008 declined to say when he would leave office.
Prosecutor Phil Halpern noted Hunter’s honorable service in the Marine Corps and his place in a family that has been a local political dynasty.
But he had a sharp rebuke for the congressman´s claim that the investigation was a politically motivated ‘witch-hunt.’
‘No figure, regardless of what office they occupy, should be allowed in this country to cry witch-hunt or fake news and attempt to deflect their criminal wrongdoings,’ Halpern said.
Halpern vowed to seek a prison term for Hunter of at least a year, although the plea agreement calls for the congressman to serve a maximum of five years.
Rather than re-election, Halpern said, ‘Mr. Hunter now faces resignation, disgrace and imprisonment.’
In a statement, the U.S. Attorney’s office said: ‘The Hunters stole money from the campaign for items as inconsequential as fast food, movie tickets and sneakers; as trivial as video games, Lego sets and Playdoh; as mundane as groceries, dog food, and utilities; and as self-indulgent as luxury hotels, overseas vacations and plane tickets for their family pet rabbits, Eggburt and Cadbury – all while their family was otherwise deeply in debt.’
Hunter left the courthouse to jeers from protesters yelling ‘Lock him up.’
For more than a year, Hunter had insisted that criminal charges against him and his wife were the result of a conspiracy of the ‘deep state’ meant to drive him from office in the Democrat-dominated state.
Hunter, was an early supporter of Trump.
He endorsed him on the same day as Chris Collins, a New York Republican, who were jointly the first two members of the House to officially support him.
Collins resigned from Congress in September after pleading guilty to insider trading.
Hunter said in a TV interview that aired Monday that he is prepared to go to jail.
The change in plea marks the second time this year a Republican congressman who was re-elected while indicted has later pleaded guilty to federal charges; the first was Collins.
Hunter, 42, told San Diego TV station KUSI a trial would be tough on his three children.
‘I think it would be really tough for them,’ he said.
‘It’s hard enough being the kids of a public figure. I think it´s time for them to live life outside the spotlight.’
But he admitted ‘mistakes’ and said he had agreed to plead guilty to only one count of ‘misuse of my own campaign funds.’
‘I think it’s important that people know that I did make mistakes. I did not properly monitor or account for my campaign money. I justify my plea with the understanding that I am responsible for my own campaign and my own campaign money,’ he said, while revealing nothing about the life of luxury the embezzled money allowed him to enjoy.
His wife Margaret Hunter also was charged in the case and in June accepted a plea deal that called for her to testify against her husband.
The couple could have faced decades in prison before the plea deals. His wife faces up to five years in prison.
Federal prosecutors said the couple spent more than $250,000 in campaign money for golf outings, family vacations to Italy and Hawaii, tequila shots and first class airline tickets for their pet rabbit, Eggburt.
In one case, prosecutors said, Hunter used a campaign credit card to buy clothes at a golf course and disguised the expense by claiming he bought golf balls for a wounded warriors charity tournament.
Prosecutors also revealed Hunter spent some of the money on romantic relationships with lobbyists and congressional aides.
In trying unsuccessfully to exclude evidence of his affairs from a January trial, Duncan’s lawyers argued that his relationships with the lobbyists and congressional aides he is accused of sleeping with helped his campaigns in a way that his supporters intend for their contributions to be used.
‘However unpopular the notion of a married man mixing business with pleasure, the Government cannot simply dismiss the reality that Mr. Hunter’s relationships with Individuals 14-18 [his mistresses] often served an overtly political purpose that would not have existed irrespective of his occupation,’ Hunter’s attorneys wrote.
They also claimed that the ‘salacious allegations’ would taint the jury pool as soon as they were heard in court.
Hunter’s sentencing was set for March 24.
Prosecution documents made clear that he had spent campaign cash on outings with mistresses in the company of other congressman, but did not name who they were.
Hunter’s departure will mark the end of a political dynasty in Southern California´s most Republican district. His father represented the district for 28 years prior to Hunter’s 2008 election.
In October, former four-term Republican Rep. Chris Collins of New York pleaded guilty in an insider trading case, a day after he resigned from Congress. He faces a maximum sentence of about four years in prison.