SAN DIEGO >> Former California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter was sentenced today 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 the wars 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.
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.
“Today’s sentence reinforces the notion that the truth still matters, that facts still matter,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Phil Halpern said after the hearing.
Hunter’s attorney, Devin Burstein, said the fact that Hunter was sentenced to less than a year instead of the 14 months prosecutors sought was because of his “years of service and dedication to our country.”
“Congressman Hunter is ready to put this behind him and to continue helping veterans in every way possible,” Burstein wrote in an email to The Associated Press.
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 in his plea deal admitted to conspiring with his wife to misspending $150,000, asked the court Tuesday to spare the mother of his three children jail time. He 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 noted it was Hunter’s desire that the hearing went ahead as planned. Hunter’s attorney said he knew of no defendant asking for a postponement. Hours after the sentencing, the court’s chief judge announced criminal proceedings, including sentencing hearings, would be suspended until April 16.
Prosecutors has 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.
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.
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’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.
He 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.
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