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Hunter Pleads Guilty To Misusing Campaign Money

Rep. Duncan Hunter arrives at the federal courthouse in downtown San Diego, Dec. 3, 2019.
Alexander Nguyen
Rep. Duncan Hunter arrives at the federal courthouse in downtown San Diego, Dec. 3, 2019.
The Republican congressman pleaded to one count of misuse of campaign funds as part of a deal with federal prosecutors.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, pleaded guilty Tuesday in a San Diego federal court to misusing campaign funds for personal use.

Hunter, who maintained his innocence for nearly 1-1/2 years, and has at times called the charges against him a political witch-hunt, pleaded guilty to one count of misuse of campaign finances as part of a deal with federal prosecutors. The congressman, who was originally indicted on 60 charges of corruption, could face up to five years in prison, three years probation and a $250,000 fine. His sentencing has been scheduled for March 17, 2020.

Following the brief change-of-plea hearing, Hunter made a statement to reporters outside of the courthouse, stating "I failed to monitor and account for my campaign spending. I made mistakes and that was what today was all about."

If Hunter resigns from his office that would mean Gov. Gavin Newsom will have to call a special election to fill his 50th District seat. In an interview, Hunter, who served in Congress for 11 years, pledged to make the transition to his successor “seamless.”

Hunter’s plea comes roughly six months after his wife, Margaret, pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy to use campaign funds for personal use. She also agreed to testify against her husband. Hunter said Monday he made his decision for the sake of his family.

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"I think it's important not to have a public trial for three reasons, and those three reasons are my kids," Hunter told KUSI in an interview that aired shortly after the hearing docket was posted online. "It's hard enough being the kids of a public figure and I think it's time for them to live life outside the spotlight."

Rep. Duncan Hunter Plea Agreement
A PDF copy of the Rep. Duncan Hunter's plea agreement with federal prosecutors.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

Hunter and his wife were charged August 2018 with using more than $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses, including family vacations and school tuitions, and falsifying Federal Election Commission campaign reports.

The Hunters allegedly misreported the expenses on FEC filings, using false descriptions such as "campaign travel," "toy drives," "dinner with volunteers/contributors" and "gift cards," according to federal prosecutors.

At the time, Hunter said the charges were politically motivated coming just two months before an election. He won that election despite being indicted.

At one point, Hunter blamed his wife for misusing campaign funds, saying she was in charge of campaign finances. Former federal prosecutor Jason Forge told KPBS that it was an unusual circumstance.

“Anytime a couple is charged it is very unusual for one to resolve the case completely independent of the resolution of the other,” Forge said. “It is far more common to have either a joint plea or even more often one spouse plead and the other get some sort of deferred prosecution.”

Despite his wife’s plea deal and cooperation with prosecutors, Hunter for months still maintained his innocence. He tried to have the case dismissed, citing an obscure constitutional clause known as the "speech or debate" clause. He claimed he could not be prosecuted for legislative acts.

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