EVEN MORE REPUBLICAN CORRUPTION!
By MARIA NEWMAN
Published: November 28, 2005
Representative Randy Cunningham of California resigned from Congress today after admitting to a federal judge that he had taken $2.4 million in bribes from a military contractor.
Denis Poroy/Associated Press
Randy Cunningham "enriched himself through his position and violated the trust of those who put him there," U.S. Attorney Carol Lam said.
Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press
Representative Randy Cunningham announced in July that he wouldn't seek re-election.
Mr. Cunningham, 63, made a brief and tearful announcement to a group of reporters outside a federal courthouse in San Diego after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery. He admitted to taking money from a military contractor in exchange for his supporting the contractor's efforts to secure Defense Department contracts. The eight-term Republican congressman, one of the most highly decorated fighter pilots of the Vietnam War, also pleaded guilty to charges of mail fraud, wire fraud and tax evasion for underreporting his income in 2004.
"The truth is I broke the law," Mr. Cunningham, and "disgraced my family."
"I forfeited my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions," and, he added, his voice breaking, "most importantly, the trust of my friends and family."
"I can't undo what I have done but I can atone," he told reporters.
Sentencing was set for Feb. 27. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a six-figure fine.
Prosecutors said Mr. Cunningham had admitted to accepting 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.
"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," the United States attorney for the Southern District of California, Carol C. Lam said in a statement quoted by The Associated Press.
Mr. Cunningham announced in July that he would not seek re-election next year. His resignation today will trigger a special election to replace him.
Had Mr. Cunningham not resigned his Congressional seat, House rules governing members who have been convicted of a felony would have stripped him of his chairmanship of the House Intelligence subcommittee on terrorism and human intelligence, and barred him from voting or participating in all committee work.
That Mr. Cunningham's downfall would come in a scandal involving a military contractor contrasted with his rise to political prominence based in part on distinguished military service. As a Navy pilot more than 30 years ago, Mr. Cunningham was wounded in action and received the nation's second-highest award for valor, the Navy Cross, after shooting down three North Vietnamese warplanes in one day.
Mr. Cunningham came under investigation last summer for a real estate deal involving Mitchell J. Wade, a founder of MZM Inc., a military contractor in Washington.
Mr. Wade bought Mr. Cunningham's home in the San Diego area in 2003 for what prosecutors say was an inflated price of $1,675,000. The following year Mr. Wade sold it at a loss of $700,000 even as other homes in San Diego, a hot real estate market, were selling for large profits.
The congressman and his wife then used the inflated proceeds to buy a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, a wealthy community north of San Diego, the government said.
Mr. Cunningham, who has long been known as Duke, was also living in Washington on a yacht, renamed the "Duke-Stir," according to the indictment, that was owned by Mr. Wade. The firm was also getting more federal military-related business in recent years, during a time when Mr. Cunningham was on a subcommittee overseeing military spending.
Mr. Cunningham's resignation is the latest blow to Republicans dealing with other ethics investigations. Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas had to step down as majority leader after he was indicted in a campaign finance case. Investigators are looking into a stock sale by the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee. And I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, was indicted in the C.I.A. leak case.
Democrats were quick to pounce on the latest Republican trouble.
In Washington, the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, said Mr. Cunningham's admission of guilt showed that Republicans had "the wrong priorities."
"This offense is just the latest example of the culture of corruption that pervades the Republican-controlled Congress, which ignores the needs of the American people to serve wealthy special interests and their cronies," she said in a statement. "The Republican Congress has the wrong priorities. It is time to restore a high ethical standard to the Congress."