SAN DIEGO (AP) — A former prosecutor on Tuesday called Duncan Hunter’s guilty plea to a single corruption charge "a great deal" for the California congressman who had faced 60 counts.
The six-term Republican admitted he and his wife Margaret misused at least $25,000 in campaign money every year from 2010 to 2016. The charge carries up to a 5-year sentence, but the deal calls for prosecutors to recommend much less when a judge sentences him in March.
Former prosecutor Jason Forge said that under the terms of the deal it's likely Hunter will serve about a year in prison and perhaps less.
"I think if you decide to do a high-profile public corruption case, you have to set up an impervious example and they fell far short of this with this plea agreement," said Forge, who in 2005 prosecuted another San Diego-area congressman, Randy "Duke" Cunningham, in one of the biggest bribery scandals in congressional history.
"Ï would rather go down fighting than agree to this," he said. "He got a great deal."
Prosecutor Phillip Halpern defended the agreement, saying it held Hunter accountable.
"Appropriately today's plea is to the major count of the indictment and effectively puts an end to his political career," he said. "Mr. Hunter now faces resignation, disgrace and imprisonment."
Hunter admitted that he and his wife dipped into the election funds between 2010 and 2016 more than 30 times and falsely reported the expenses as campaign related from their daughter's birthday party at the posh Hotel Del Coronado to an outing with friends at a French bistro.
He refused to answer questions about when he would leave the congressional seat he has held for more than a decade.
An early supporter of Donald Trump's 2016 election bid, Hunter is the second Republican congressman to plead guilty to federal charges this year.
Accompanied by his father, the former combat Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan left the courthouse to jeers of "Lock him up!"
Halpern had a sharp rebuke for the congressman's claim that he was targeted because of politics.
"No figure, regardless of what office they occupy, should be allowed in this country to cry ‘witch hunt’ or ‘fake news’ and attempt to deflect their criminal wrongdoings," Halpern said.
Halpern said he would seek a minimum of one year in jail for Hunter.
Prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence of eight to 14 months. A judge will ultimately determine his sentence and could impose the maximum of five years.
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