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San Diego congressman resigns after admitting to bribery

first_imgSAN DIEGO (AP) – Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham resigned Monday after admitting he took $2.4 million as part of guilty pleas in a case that grew from an investigation into the sale of his home to a wide-ranging conspiracy involving payments in cash, vacations and antiques. The Republican congressman wiped away tears as he announced his resignation outside federal court. “I can’t undo what I have done but I can atone,” he said. Authorities said Cunningham steered defense contracts worth tens of millions of dollars to the people who bribed him. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBlues bury Kings early with four first-period goals Cunningham, 63, entered pleas in U.S. District Court to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud, and tax evasion for underreporting his income in 2004. Cunningham, an eight-term congressman, answered “yes, Your Honor” when asked by U.S. District Judge Larry Burns if he had accepted bribes from someone in exchange for his performance of official duties. “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. Attorney Carol Lam said in a prepared statement. After the hearing, Cunningham was taken away for fingerprinting. He will be released on his own recognizance until a Feb. 27 sentencing hearing. He could receive a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. House Ethics rules say that any lawmaker convicted of a felony no longer should vote or participate in committee work. Under Republican caucus rules, Cunningham also would lose his chairmanship of the House Intelligence subcommittee on terrorism and human intelligence. Cunningham had already said he would not run for re-election in 2006 but it was not immediately clear whether he would resign. He planned to address reporters at a press conference later in the morning. His chief of staff said she didn’t know his plans and his attorney didn’t immediately return a call for comment. Cunningham agreed to forfeit to the government his Rancho Santa Fe home, more than $1.8 million in cash and antiques and rugs. Prosecutors said Cunningham admitted to receiving at least $2.4 million in bribes paid to him by several conspirators through a variety of methods, including checks totaling over $1 million, cash, rugs, antiques, furniture, yacht club fees and vacations. Prosecutors would not name the conspirators. Daniel Dzwilewski, the FBI’s special agent in charge in San Diego, called the violations “staggering” for a serving U.S. congressman. The case began when authorities started investigating whether Cunningham and his wife, Nancy, used the proceeds from the $1,675,000 sale to defense contractor Mitchell Wade to buy a $2.55 million mansion in ritzy Rancho Santa Fe. Wade put the Del Mar house back on the market and sold it after nearly a year for $975,000 – a loss of $700,000. Cunningham is a former Vietnam War flying ace known on Capitol Hill for his interest in defense issues and his occasional temperamental outbursts He drew little notice outside his San Diego-area district before the San Diego Union-Tribune reported last June that he’d sold the home to Wade. The house sale was just one in a series of too-friendly deals for Cunningham. Though he denied wrongdoing when he announced in July that he wouldn’t seek re-election, Cunningham himself acknowledged it didn’t look good. Cunningham’s pleas came amid a series of Republican scandals. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, had to step down as majority leader after a Texas prosecutor indicted him in a campaign finance case; a stock sale by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., is being looked at by regulators; and Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff was indicted in the CIA leak case. In addition to buying Cunningham’s home at an inflated price, Wade let him live rent-free on his yacht, the Duke Stir, at the Capital Yacht Club. His firm, MZM Inc., donated generously to Cunningham’s campaigns. Prosecutors did not specify if those allegations were part of Cunningham’s guilty pleas. Around the same time, MZM was winning valuable defense contracts, and Cunningham sits on the House Appropriations subcommittee that controls defense dollars. In 2004 the little-known company based in Washington, D.C., tripled its revenue and nearly quadrupled its staff, according to information posted on the company Web site before Wade stepped down as president and the company was sold to a private equity firm. An associate of Wade, Brent Wilkes, president of a Poway company called ADCS Inc., also gave Cunningham campaign cash and favors. Wilkes reportedly flew Cunningham in a corporate jet to go hunting in Idaho and golfing in Hawaii, and a charitable foundation Wilkes started spent $36,000 hosting a black tie “Tribute to Heroes” gala in 2002 that feted Cunningham with a trophy naming him a hero. ADCS, which specializes into turning paper records into digital files, has received tens of millions in Defense Department contracts since the late 1990s. In some years, lawmakers on Cunningham’s spending panel added the money themselves, even scolding the Pentagon for not requesting it in the first place. Unlike Wade and Wilkes, the third man federal investigators focused on, Thomas Kontogiannis, apparently wasn’t in the defense business. Like them he had a mutually beneficial relationship with Cunningham. Cunningham wrote to prosecutors in 2000 on behalf of Kontogiannis, a New York developer then under investigation in a bribery and kickback scheme involving school computer contracts. Two years later, Cunningham made $400,000 selling his 65-foot flat-bottom riverboat to Kontogiannis. Also, a company run by Kontogiannis’ nephew and daughter helped Cunningham finance a condominium in Alexandria, Va., and his house in Rancho Santa Fe. Kontogiannis ultimately pleaded guilty to fraud charges. He told the San Diego Union-Tribune that Cunningham gave him advice on attorneys to contact to explore getting a presidential pardon.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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