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Ex-California Rep. Duncan Hunter gets 11 months in prison

Julie Watson
Associated Press

San Diego – Former California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter was sentenced Tuesday to 11 months in prison after pleading guilty to stealing campaign funds and spending the money on everything from outings with friends to his daughter’s birthday party.

The ex-Marine’s attorneys had asked for most or part of his sentence be spent in home confinement, citing his military service fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his nearly six terms in Congress. Hunter, 43, resigned from Congress in January after representing one of Southern California’s last solidly Republican districts.

But U.S. District Court Judge Thomas J. Whelan said given the amount of money Hunter misspent and the number of years he carried out the pilfering, home confinement was not an option.

Convicted ex-Rep. Duncan Hunter leaves a court building after his sentencing Tuesday in San Diego. Hunter has been sentenced to 11 months in prison after pleading guilty to misspending campaign funds.

Prosecutors ahead of Tuesday’s sentencing submitted 87 pages to the judge that showed a corrupt congressman who intentionally and repeatedly stole from his campaign funds for a decade.

Hunter and his wife,Margaret, who was his campaign manager, were accused in a 60-count indictment of stealing more than $250,000 in campaign funds and trying to hide it on financial disclosure records, listing some personal expenses as contributions to wounded warriors.

The money bankrolled private school tuition for his children, his wife’s shopping sprees, weekend trips with his mistress and parties in Washington, according to the indictment.

Each pleaded guilty to a single count in separate plea agreements last year, and each had faced up to five years in prison. His wife, who was not present Tuesday, is scheduled to be sentenced April 7.

Hunter, who admitted to conspiring with his wife to misspend $150,000, asked the court Tuesday to spare the mother of his three children jail time, and said he takes full responsibility. He showed little emotion as his father, former Rep. Duncan L. Hunter, sat behind him.

The hearing was held despite many state and federal courts across California and the country all but shutting down or holding hearings by teleconference to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.

The judge said the full courtroom did not exceed 50 people, meeting federal recommendations.

Whelan said the hearing went ahead as planned at Hunter’s request. Federal judges in San Diego have held many call-in hearings when parties of a case could not be present.

Prosecutors said a 14-month prison sentence was needed to punish a lawmaker who lied to his constituents and whose wrongdoing has now left the 50th congressional district without a representative. A Democrat and Republican are headed to a November runoff for his seat.

After the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Phil Halpern said he was happy with the sentence.

“Today’s sentence reinforces the notion that the truth still matters, that facts still matter,” he said.

A broke and debt-saddled Hunter cavalierly spent campaign money on small things, such as a tin of chewing tobacco, and a copy of the book, “Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid,” according to prosecutors.

And after he was caught, he ran for reelection and tried to convince voters in the district east of San Diego that as a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, he was the victim of a political witch hunt by left-leaning prosecutors trying to drive him out of office in Democratic California.

Defense attorneys said he deserved home confinement because of his military and public service. They said he saved thousands of San Diego jobs and helped craft laws to better the lives of veterans.

His parents wrote a letter pointing out his bravery in signing up for the Marine Corps the day after the Sept. 11 attacks, and a Democratic colleague, San Diego Rep. Juan Vargas, penned that “Mr. Hunter needs special counseling and treatment after fighting our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Hunter is not the first congressmen accused of the illegal use of campaign money. Prosecutors compared Hunter’s case to that of former Illinois Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., who got 30 months for stealing $750,000 in campaign funds.

Hunter’s lawyers compare him to former California Rep. Jay Kim, who was spared prison time in 1998 and sentenced to two months home confinement after he admitted to taking more than $250,000 in illegal campaign contributions.

Hunter’s conviction ended his family’s political dynasty in the 50th congressional district. He took over the seat from his father, who represented the area of suburbs and farm towns for 28 years before retiring.

Hunter was ordered to report to prison on May 29.

Hunter is the second congressman to be sentenced to federal prison this year. Former New York Republican Rep. Chris Collins, was sentenced in January to 26 months in prison after pleading guilty to insider trading charges. Both were re-elected while indicted.