Rep. Randy 'Duke' Cunningham Pleads Guilty, Resigns

Submitted by Sarah Gonzales on November 28, 2005 - 6:41pm. ::

By Tony Perry
Times Staff Writer,0,7681989,print.story?coll=ny-top-headlines

November 28, 2005, 3:14 PM EST

SAN DIEGO -- Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham resigned his office today after pleading guilty to fraud, conspiracy to commit bribery and tax evasion in a political corruption case.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns accepted the pleas from Cunningham, 63, including the congressman's admission in federal court that he had accepted bribes in exchange for performance of his official duties.

"I misled my friends, family and myself. The truth is, I broke the law and disgraced my office and myself," Cunningham said after his plea, breaking into tears at a news conference.

"I know I will have to forfeit my freedom…. In my life I have great joy and great sorrow, and now I know great shame," said Cunningham, a Vietnam War flying ace who won the Navy Cross.

Cunningham pledged to make amends. He said he admitted his fault, apologized and asked for "God's grace" as he moves forward.

Sentencing was set for Feb. 27. Cunningham could receive a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $350,000 fine.

Cunningham admitted to receiving at least $2.4 million in bribes — checks for over $1 million, cash, rugs, antiques, furniture, yacht club fees and vacations, according to prosecutors. He agreed to return $1.8 million.

"He did the worst thing an elected official can do — he enriched himself through his position and violated the trust of those who put him there," U.S. Atty. Carol Lam said in a statement.

Cunningham sold his home to a defense contractor at an inflated price, sparking a wide-ranging federal corruption investigation. The eight-term congressman announced this fall that he would not seek reelection next year, setting off a scramble among would-be successors.

On Sunday night, the Republican from a conservative north San Diego County district called close supporters to tell them of his decision.

"It's over. I can't fight anymore," Cunningham was quoted as saying.

According to court papers, Cunningham "demanded and received" a bribe from a defense contractor who paid an inflated price for Cunningham's home in exchange for official favors.

The allegation was filed as part of a civil lawsuit in which federal prosecutors are attempting to seize Cunningham's home in Rancho Santa Fe.

Prosecutors alleged that Cunningham and his wife, Nancy, took the illegal gains from the sale of their previous home in Del Mar Heights and used them to buy their current house. As a result, the new home should be forfeited, much as the government seizes property from drug dealers and other criminals, prosecutors claimed.

Cunningham got the inflated price from defense contractor Mitchell Wade "in return for being influenced in the performance of his official acts as a public official" in violation of federal law, prosecutors stated in the court papers, filed in August.

Cunningham was on two House committees that reviewed the Pentagon budget and influenced the flow of defense contracts.

Wade's former company, MZM Inc., which Cunningham has said he championed, has received $163 million in federal contracts — mostly for classified defense projects involving the gathering and analysis of intelligence.

The allegations against Cunningham involved the sale of the Del Mar Heights house in November 2003. Wade paid Cunningham $1.67 million for the house, then sold it eight months later for a $700,000 loss.

A month after selling the Del Mar Heights home, the Cunninghams bought a five-bedroom, eight-bathroom house in exclusive Rancho Santa Fe for $2.55 million. Prosecutors alleged that the couple made a $1.4-million profit on the Del Mar Heights sale, which they used to "buy up" to Rancho Santa Fe.

In one of his few previous public statements, Cunningham has called Wade a close friend. Part of the federal probe involved the fact that Cunningham has lived aboard Wade's 42-foot boat, renamed the Duke Stir, while in Washington.
Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.