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Randall "Duke" Cunningham
Republican, California (1991-2005)
The Honorable Randy "Duke" Cunningham: Teacher and a coach . . . U.S. Navy pilot, the first fighter ace of the Vietnam War . . . Top Gun . . . nominated for the Medal of Honor, recipient of the Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, fifteen Air Medals, the Purple Heart . . . strong supporter of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars . . . conservative Republican Congressman from California . . . big supporter of George W. Bush . . . recipient of the biggest bribes in Congressional memory.
Cunningham resigned from Congress on November 28, 2005 after pleading guilty to fraud, conspiracy to commit bribery and tax evasion.
Teary eyed, and full of contrition, Cunningham, 63, struck a deal with federal prosecutors. He admitted receiving at least $2.4 million in bribes and over $1 million in cash, rugs, antiques, furniture (see below). He could face 10 years in prison and a $350,000 fine when he's sentenced on February 27, 2006. Duke had earlier denied any wrongdoing. "I've been totally above board," he reassured the Honorable Duncan Hunter about his real estate transactions. (Click here for other examples of "Lyin' Through Their Teeth").
Court papers say that Cunningham "demanded and received" a bribe from a defense contractor who paid an inflated price for Cunningham's home in exchange for official favors. Cunningham sat on two important House committee that reviewed Pentagon budget and influence the awarding of defense contracts.
$2.4 million in bribes and more than $1 million in evaded taxes. We haven't seen these kinds of figures in more than a couple of decades. Here's a few of the luxury items that were lavished on Cunningham in exchange for his support of government contracts. Defense contractor Mitchell J. Wade has admitted bribing the Duke; and San Diego businessman Brent R. Wilkes is under investigation for bribery.
A Rolls-Royce and $17,889.96 for its repairs
Cut-rate deal on a GMC Suburban
A $1,500 gift certificate for a set of earrings
Use of corporate jet, valued at $8,166
Resort vacations worth $10,000
Silver candelabra, antique armoires, Persian rugs, custom oak and leaded-glass doors, $50,000
Leather sofa and sleigh-style bed, $6,632
Two Laser Shot shooting simulators, $9,200
19ty Century French commode, $7,200
Graduation party in Washington, D.C., hotel for his daughter, $2,081.
Prosecutors say Duke's Rancho Santa Fe home was bought with bribe money. The house is for sale, listed at $3.15 million. Duke agreed to forfeit to the government his share of the proceeds from the sale and $1.8 million in cash.
There were five years of false tax returns and dozens of bribes.
What about his Congressional pension? Duke will keep his retirement pay from the Navy for 21 years, and Congress, 15 years. A total of $64,000. Mike Orenstein of the federal Office of Personnel Management states that only a conviction for crimes like treason, trading secrets with the enemy, or perjury would cause a federal worker to lose his pension. (Onell R. Soto, "Experts Say Cunningham Likely to Get Retirement Pay," San Diego Union, Dec. 1, 2005, A20).
President Bush was outraged. "The idea of a congressman taking money is outrageous," said Bush, "and Congressman Cunningham is going to realize that he had broken the law and is going to pay a serious price, which he should." Cunningham was one of Bush's staunchest supporters.
"Its amazing that somebody in Congress that long could be that stupid," said Jack Pitney, government professor at Claremont McKenna College in California.
U. S. Attorney Carol Lam: "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."
At least Cunningham had the guts to admit his crimes and resign: "I mislead my friends, family and myself. The truth is, I broke the law and disgraced my office and myself. "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."
The Duke now becomes a member of the Congressional Prison Caucus, and will have the longest term of any of its members.
Duke defeated another BadBoy, Jim Bates, for a seat in Congress in 1990.
Update: On March 3, 2006, BadBoy Duke was sentenced to eight years and four months in federal prison for selling his office. "No man has ever been more sorry," said Cunningham as he choked up before the judge. "I made a very wrong turn. I rationalized decisions I knew were wrong. I did that, sir." Duke was also ordered to pay back $1.8 million in back taxes and penalties, plus $1.85 million in restitution.
Update: Federal prosecutors are looking into charges that the California defense contractor, Brent Wilkes, who allegedly bribed Duke also arranged for a Washington area limousine service to provide prostitutes to the Duke and possibly other lawmakers. Mitchell Wade, who has already confessed to bribing Cunningham, said that Wilkes had an arrangement with Shirlington Limousine service, which in turn used at least one escort service. The limo would pick up Duke and a prostitute, bring them to the Watergate Hotel (ah, shades of the 1970s) and the Westin Grand in Washington. The Washington Post reports that the owner of the limo service, Christopher Baker, had a lengthy criminal record. But that didn't stop him from getting a $21 million contract with the Department of Homeland Security to provide transportation and limo services for its top executives. (I am reading this wrong, or are we saying that $21 million of taxpayer dollars went for limos for government bureaucrats).
Source: Sonya Geis and Charles Babcock, "Former GOP Lawmaker Gets 8 Years," Washington Post, March 4, 2006, 1. Jo Becker and Charles R. Babcock, "Prostitution Alleged in Cunningham Case," Washington Post, April 29, 2006, A1.