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Duncan Hunter sentenced to 11 months in prison

Former Rep. Duncan Hunter will serve time in federal prison for spending over $150,000 of campaign funds on extramarital affairs, bar tabs and tobacco.

Former Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., was sentenced to 11 months in prison Tuesday.
Former Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., was sentenced to 11 months in prison Tuesday. (CQ Roll Call)

Former Rep. Duncan Hunter was sentenced Tuesday to 11 months in federal prison for pilfering over $150,000 of campaign funds and using them on personal pursuits.

“Today the truth was victorious. Today the facts were victorious,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Phil Halpern, one of the prosecutors of the case in San Diego. His fellow prosecutor Emily Allen described the sentence as a fair one and added that the California Republican will report to prison in May.

The sentencing guideline range was prescribed at 8-14 months in prison. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas J. Whelan could have sentenced Hunter to a maximum of five years in prison or — on the other end of the spectrum — could have given him no prison time.

In August 2018, Hunter and his wife Margaret Hunter, were named in a lengthy, 60-count indictment, outlining the ways in which they broke federal law and undermined the public’s trust.

The California Republican illegally spent campaign money on myriad endeavors: Lego sets, movie tickets, a $14,000 family vacation to Italy and flights for his family’s pet bunny rabbit. Hunter also spent campaign cash on extensive bar tabs, Uber rides to the home of girlfriends for extramarital affairs, Marlboro cigarettes and chewing tobacco.

Hunter pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California on Dec. 3 to one count of conspiring, along with his wife to knowingly and willfully convert campaign funds for personal use. Taken together, they misused $250,000.

It wasn’t until over a month after his admission of guilt that Hunter submitted his resignation letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Jan. 7. His resignation took effect on January 13, ending an 11-year congressional career.

On April 4, 2016, the FEC questioned Hunter’s campaign about charges to Christian Unified Schools and Steam Games, an online gaming platform. Morgan Cook, a San Diego Union-Tribune reporter, broke the story of the inquiry the next day.

Hunter is the second former congressional lawmaker to be sentenced to federal prison this year. Former Rep. Chris Collins, a New York Republican, resigned and pleaded guilty to insider trading charges. Collins was sentenced to over two years in prison in January.

Hunter began his congressional tenure in 2008 to fill the seat previously held by his father, Duncan Lee Hunter, a Vietnam veteran who held the seat since 1980. The younger Hunter served as a Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan. He quit his information technology analyst job and enlisted the day after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and fought in the first battle of Fallujah.

Hunter’s decision to resign bolstered Republican chances of holding on to the 50th District in Southern California, which President Donald Trump carried by 15 points in 2016.

An embattled Hunter nearly lost reelection in 2018 to Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, who is bidding for the seat again this year. Campa-Najjar advanced to the general election after the March 3 primary, which saw all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, run on the same ballot. The top two vote-getters, Campa Najjar and former GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, face off in November.

Issa narrowly beat fellow Republican and onetime San Diego City Councilmember Carl DeMaio to secure a spot on the November ballot.

Issa previously represented the more Democratic-leaning 49th District and opted not to run for reelection in 2018. But his chances of a return to Congress look brighter this year, with Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rating the 50th District race Solid Republican.

Bridget Bowman and Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.

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