SAN DIEGO (AP) — A federal prosecutor said he plans to ask for at least a year in prison for California Rep. Duncan Hunter pleaded guilty Tuesday to misusing $150,000 in campaign funds for his own personal expenses.
The six-term Republican, who had fought the allegations for more than a year, showed no emotion in the courtroom and only spoke in affirming his guilty plea.
Outside the federal courthouse in San Diego, he offered a brief statement, saying, “I failed to monitor and account for my campaign spending. I made mistakes and that’s what today was all about.” He said he would discuss his future at a later time.
In his plea deal, Hunter said he and his wife dipped into the election funds between 2010 and 2016 more than 30 times and tried to hide it by falsely reporting the expenses — from their daughter’s birthday party at the famed Hotel Del Coronado to a french dinner with friends in Washington — were campaign related.
The former combat Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and was first elected in 2008 declined to say when he would leave office. He left the courthouse accompanied by his father, former Rep. Duncan Hunter Sr.
Prosecutor Phil Halpern noted Hunter’s honorable service in the Marine Corps and his place in a family that has been a political dynasty representing the 50th Congressional District for nearly 40 years. But he had a sharp rebuke for the congressman’s claim that the investigation was a politically motivated "witch-hunt."
“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 vowed to seek a prison term for Hunter of at least a year, although the plea agreement calls for the congressman to serve a maximum of five years. A judge will determine his ultimate sentence.
Rather than re-election, Halpern said, “Mr. Hunter now faces resignation, disgrace and imprisonment.”
Hunter left the courthouse to jeers from protesters yelling “Lock him up.”
Hunter and his wife were initially charged with 60 criminal counts and prosecutors accused them of spending about $250,000 in campaign funds on everything from luxury family vacations to Italy and Hawaii to tequila shots and private school tuition for their children.
Halpern said with the plea deals, both he and his wife admitted to the main charges.
For more than a year, Hunter had insisted that criminal charges against him and his wife were the result of a conspiracy of the “deep state” meant to drive him from office in the Democrat-dominated state.
Hunter, an early supporter of President Donald Trump, said in a TV interview that aired Monday that he is prepared to go to jail. The change in plea marks the second time this year a Republican congressman who was re-elected while indicted has later pleaded guilty to federal charges.
Hunter, 42, told San Diego TV station KUSI a trial would be tough on his three children.
His wife Margaret Hunter accepted a plea deal in June that called for her to testify against her husband. The couple could have faced decades in prison before the plea deals. His wife faces up to five years in prison, though Halpern said Tuesday her cooperation had helped the prosecution and they had not determined yet if they will seek jail time for her.
Federal prosecutors said the couple spent more than $250,000 in campaign money for golf outings, family vacations to Italy and Hawaii, tequila shots and airline tickets for their pet rabbit.
Prosecutors also revealed Hunter spent some of the money on romantic relationships with lobbyists and congressional aides.
Hunter’s departure will mark the end of a political dynasty in Southern California’s most Republican district. His father represented the district for 28 years prior to Hunter’s 2008 election.
In October, former four-term Republican Rep. Chris Collins of New York pleaded guilty in an insider trading case, a day after he resigned from Congress. He faces a maximum sentence of about four years in prison.
This story corrects that Hunter pleaded guilty to misusing $150,000 not $250,000.