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Hunter gets less than a year in prison

Ex-congressman, son of political patriarch, pleaded guilty to stealing campaign funds

Former Alpine Congressman Duncan D. Hunter was sentenced Tuesday to 11 months in federal prison and will surrender May 29 to start his term for illegally using campaign funds for personal expenses.

Hunter, 43, asked U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Whelan not to impose any jail time for his wife, Margaret Hunter, 44, because she will need to take care of their children while he is incarcerated.

“I take full responsibility,” said Hunter regarding the misuse of campaign funds. “It’s been an honor to serve this nation.”

Hunter, a Republican, and his wife were charged with stealing $250,000 in campaign finances when both were indicted in 2018. The donations came from voters and supporters but they are only to be used for legitimate campaign expenses.

Hunter lives with his father, Duncan Hunter, who won the 50th Congressional District seat in 1980 before he retired in 2008 in Alpine. His son won the same seat and began serving in 2009. Hunter pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal campaign funds and resigned his seat in January.

Hunter urged Whelan to “take sympathy” on his wife “and not give her time in custody” when she is sentenced on April 13.  His parents, Duncan and Lynne Hunter, were seated in the audience.

Hunter’s attorney, Paul Pfingst, noted that the spread of the Coronavirus “changes conditions” and  said prison might pose a health risk for Hunter. Another Hunter attorney, Devin Burstein, asked for 11 months of home detention and 1,000 hours of community service instead of prison.

“Jail can’t always be the answer,” said Burstein, who described Hunter as “a non-violent first offender.”

Pfingst said there was “no direct victim of the spending” of campaign donations, noting it was not taxpayer funds that were used for personal expenses.

“The Congressman did abuse his office,” rebutted Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Halpern. “This crime began almost the beginning he took office in 2009.”

“He used campaign funds to take his mistress on a (trip),” argued Halpern. “He was motivated by this crime of greed.”

“He was the individual who enabled (his wife)…to do the spending,” said Halpern. “This man hacked our system of justice. The only person lying was Duncan Hunter.”

“Home confinement is not appropriate,” said Halpern, adding “We want Mr. Hunter remanded…for his reprehensible conduct.”

Whelan said he sometimes allows people time to surrender to start a prison term. “I see no reason to treat Mr. Hunter differently,” he said when setting the May 29 date to surrender.

Whelan said Hunter could not afford to pay a fine, but he did order him to pay a $100 penalty assessment fee. He did not order restitution.  Hunter repaid $60,000 to his campaign fund in 2017.

The U.S. Attorney’s office filed an 87-page sentencing recommendation that said Hunter began using campaign funds in 2009 to buy tobacco, meals, groceries, alcohol, theater tickets and other miscellaneous items. Hunter  lived from paycheck to paycheck and often had to call his wife to see if he could use any credit card for items like water and nail clippers, documents say.

The first item of business taken up by Whelan was him noting restrictions regarding crowds and the Coronavirus.  Most of the courtroom’s 36 seats were filled and Whelan noted that was less than 50 people, the maximum limit on gatherings by health officials.

Pfingst told Whelan there was no dispute that “Duncan Hunter put his life on the line for his country” during three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan before he ever ran for office.

“He was the most effective and most accomplished member of Congress. Duncan Hunter has contributed so much to this country,” said Pfingst. “Not a single penny of taxpayer dollars were involved in this.”

Hunter could have been sentenced to five years in federal prison. However, the U.S. Attorney’s office argued for a 14-month term in court documents.

“We have the upmost respect for Judge Whelan, who is probably the most experienced judge on the federal bench,” said Halpern afterwards.

“If Judge Whelan believed this(11 months) to be the appropriate sentence, then it certainly was,” said Halpern.

Hunter remains free on $15,000 bond and Margaret Hunter, of La Mesa, remains free on $10,000 bond.

She pleaded guilty to conspiracy to use campaign funds.

Source: East County Californian

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