Rep. Duncan Hunter, Wife Plead Not Guilty To Campaign Finance Corruption Charges
Our top story on Midday edition Congressman Duncan Hunter and his wife Margaret each pleaded not guilty today to charges of spending campaign funds for personal use. The indictment issued Tuesday Conté contains 60 counts of campaign finance crimes conspiracy to commit wire fraud and filing false campaign accounting reports CBS reporter Jane Heineman was in San Diego federal court for today's arraignment. And Jade welcome. Good afternoon Maureen. What was the scene like inside the Federal Court today. It was a crowded courtroom. Both the defense and the prosecution were in there Duncan Hunter and his attorneys arrived first his wife shortly thereafter as his wife arrived. He stood out to greet the attorneys and his wife. She walked right past him and took a seat several seats down. Was there a bail issued. There was Braille issued there. Did the attorneys argued that the hunters. Live paycheck to paycheck and so they argued for a low bond. So Duncan Hunter was given fifteen thousand dollars. His wife Margaret was given ten thousand dollars as conditions of that they are restricted to travel in just the United States. They have to stay employed full time. Not violate state and local laws. And Duncan has to turn in his firearms by Monday. Jade you mentioned that there was a certain amount of tension it seemed to be between the congressman and his wife during this arraignment. Can you tell us more about that. There did seem to be some tension. He stood up to greet to greet her and the attorneys as they walked in. He shook her attorneys hand and as she you know just walked right past him and he tried to sort of pat her on the back. She continued to walk right past and took a seat several seats down. It was just sort of a stone cold look from the body language. The two were not happy. Did the congressman have anything to say after the hearing. He did not. He came straight outside of the courtroom and off into his vehicle he and his wife both arrived separately and they both left separately. Now I understand there's a protest going on outside of the federal courthouse. Tell us about that. There is a visible showed up in San Diego County and divisible a group of protesters who are are protesting corruption and who want to see Duncan Hunter out of office. They showed up and chanted vote him out. And also a campaign ajar showed up as well to address the cameras that were out there. He is calling for more pride to be brought back to the 15th Congressional District and obviously vying for the seat. So there were about 100 or so protesters out there with signs all chanting for Duncan Hunter to step down. And of course Mark having ajar the Democratic challenger in the 15th District to Congressman Duncan Hunter. Was there any sign anything said by anyone after this hearing today. The attorney did step up to the microphones to speak. The attorney for Duncan Hunter he said you know he pretty much just repeated what they've been saying all along which is that this is a witch hunt and that Duncan Hunter will have his day in court and when is the next court date. The next court date is set for September 4th and that will be for a motion hearing. And I've been speaking with KPBS reporter Jade Heidemann live in downtown San Diego. Jade thank you. Thank you Maureen.
U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter was swarmed by several dozen demonstrators yelling "shame on you!" as he left a federal courthouse Thursday in San Diego after pleading not guilty to charges of illegally using his campaign account for personal expenses.
The California Republican and his wife, Margaret, entered their pleas in federal court, where prosecutors said bond could be set low because the couple is living paycheck to paycheck. The judge agreed to set bail at $15,000 for the congressman and at $10,000 for his wife.
After the arraignment, demonstrators holding signs that read "Duncan Hunter Ethics and Integrity Matter" and "Crooked Duncan Hunter" followed him as he walked to a pickup truck. He got in and removed a "Lock me up!" sign shoved onto the windshield as he was driven away.
A 60-count indictment unsealed Tuesday charges the couple used more than $250,000 to finance family trips to Italy and Hawaii, golf outings, school tuition, theater tickets and even fast food purchases, and then attempted to conceal the illegal spending in federal records.
Even as the five-term incumbent was under investigation by the FBI, Hunter easily won a 30-point victory in a June primary and established himself as a strong favorite to hold onto his strongly Republican 50th Congressional District seat in San Diego and Riverside counties, which his father held for many years.
Hunter's attorney, Gregory A. Vega, has claimed there was politically motivated pressure to tarnish Hunter before the general election.
Vega told reporters after the arraignment that "the congressman has faced more difficult battles than this in Iraq and Afghanistan. He looks forward to his day in court." Hunter's website says he quit his job as a business analyst soon after 9/11 and joined the Marines, serving three combat tours overseas.
In a statement, House Speaker Paul Ryan called the charges "deeply serious" and said Hunter will be removed from his committee assignments, pending resolution of the case. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Ryan should call on Hunter to resign.
The California secretary of state's office said there is no process in the elections code for Hunter to remove his name from the ballot, and there can be no write-in candidates for the November election.
The indictment alleges the couple dipped into campaign cash for years to bankroll their lifestyle, while their household budget was awash in red ink. The spending ranged from the banal to the lavish, from movie tickets to a $6,288.74 family vacation at a resort in Hawaii.
"The Hunters spent substantially more than they earned," the indictment said. "They overdrew their bank account more than 1,100 times in a 7-year period resulting in approximately $37,761 in 'overdraft' and 'insufficient funds' bank fees."
Hunter's opponent in the general election is Ammar Campa-Najjar, 29, a Democrat who has never held elective office. He received 17 percent of the votes in the primary, coming in second to Hunter. The top two vote-getters in California primaries advance regardless of their party affiliation.
Campa-Najjar made a brief appearance outside the courthouse before Hunter exited. He promised to bring "national pride" to the district not "national shame."