Monday, November 28, 2005

California Congressman Pleads Guilty to Having Accepted Bribes.

Prominent San Diego Representative to Congress, Randy "Duke" Cunningham pleaded guilty earlier today to having accepted bribes from defense contractors. This story has been getting wide play over on Atrios' Eschaton site. The following Yahoo News AP wire excerpt lays it all out:

SAN DIEGO - Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, an eight-term congressman and hotshot Vietnam War fighter jock, pleaded guilty to graft and tearfully resigned Monday, admitting he took $2.4 million in bribes mostly from defense contractors in exchange for government business and other favors.

"The truth is I broke the law, concealed my conduct, and disgraced my office," the 63-year-old Republican said at a news conference. "I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions, most importantly, the trust of my friends and family."

He could get up to 10 years in prison at sentencing Feb. 27 on federal charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and fraud, and tax evasion.

Investigators said Cunningham, a member of a House Appropriations subcommittee that controls defense dollars, secured contracts worth tens of millions of dollars for those who paid him off. Prosecutors did not identify the defense contractors.

Cunningham was charged in a case that grew out of an investigation into the sale of his home to a defense contractor at an inflated price (reported to be $700,000 more than it was worth).

In court documents, prosecutors said Cunningham admitted receiving at least $2.4 million in bribes paid in a variety of forms, including checks totaling over $1 million, cash, antiques, rugs, furniture, yacht club fees and vacations.

Among other things, prosecutors said, Cunningham was given $1.025 million to pay down the mortgage on his Rancho Santa Fe mansion, $13,500 to buy a Rolls-Royce and $2,081 for his daughter's graduation party at a Washington hotel.

"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.

Cunningham was allowed to remain free while he awaits sentencing. He also agreed to forfeit his mansion, more than $1.8 million in cash, and antiques and rugs.

The case began when authorities started investigating Cunningham's sale of his Del Mar house to defense contractor Mitchell Wade for $1,675,000. Wade sold the house nearly a year later for $975,000 — a loss of $700,000 in a hot real estate market.

In addition to buying Cunningham's home at an inflated price, Wade let him live rent-free on the congressman's yacht, the Duke Stir, at a yacht club. Wade's company, MZM Inc., also donated generously to Cunningham's campaigns.

Around the same time, MZM was winning defense contracts. MZM does classified intelligence work for the military. It had $65.5 million of contracts for intelligence-related defense work in fiscal 2004, ranking No. 38 on the

Full Story

I just watched a news segment on ABC that reported that Cunningham is expected to "cooperate" with investigators and possibly name other Congresspersons who may have committed similar crimes.

This case has been under investigation for a long time, and I've been following it peripherally through the web, primarily via Atrios and the perceptively snarky TBogg. From what I've read, it appears that Mr. Cunningham's Waterloo has been building for quite a while, and it was just a matter of time before he got careless.

In a discussion with Ken Kaniff, Connecticut's Most Wanted Gangsta, Ken opined, to the best of my memory, that this would hurt San Diego as far as any future base deployment activity would be concerned because that region would now be losing a strong voice in D.C. I mildly disagreed and said that any projected cutbacks in San Diego were probably already in the planning stages, and that the Bush administration would have likely reduced funds for San Diego and reallocate them to east coast harbors. Ken seemed to get my point, and we left it at that. What I left unsaid was my sense of wonder that Mr. Cunningham was never picked to be part of the Bush-Cheney-Halliburton team. It appears he would have been right at home.

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