Washington — Republican Representative Duncan Hunter has pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal campaign funds, reversing his previous not guilty plea after spending months decrying and denying the allegations against him.
The California congressman entered his guilty plea in federal court in San Diego, California, on Tuesday, admitting that he knowingly and willfully took hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash so that he and his wife, Margaret, could maintain their lifestyle. Margaret Hunter pleaded guilty in June.
The plea agreement said the Hunters used more than $150,000 in campaign funds to pay for everything from fast food meals and movie outings to luxury vacations and plane tickets for their pet rabbits. The congressman also used more than $1,000 in campaign funds to pay for a ski trip on 2010 with someone prosecutors described as “one of his girlfriends.”
Hunter, 42, faces up to five years behind bars when he’s sentenced in March, but federal prosecutors are pushing for a little over a year. The charge also comes with a fine of up to $250,000.
California Republican Representative Duncan Hunter speaks after leaving federal court on Tuesday, December 3, 2019, in San Diego.
Gregory Bull / AP
“This was not an accounting mistake by his campaign. This was a deliberate, years-long violation of the law,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Leshner said in a statement. “Congressman Hunter used the power of his position to fund a lifestyle out of his reach, unwittingly financed by those who put him there. His guilty plea entered today acknowledges and accepts responsibility for his conduct.”
Hunter told KUSI News on Monday that he wanted to avoid a public trial because “it would be really tough” for his three children.
The California Republican won reelection to Congress in 2018, after he was already charged. He is up for reelection in 2020, and hasn’t indicated whether he will resign.
Hunter insisted for months that he was the target of a political “witch hunt,” insisting the allegations lacked merit.