- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2006

Former California Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who pleaded guilty to accepting $2.4 million in bribes to help a Washington-based defense contractor get business, was sentenced yesterday to eight years and four months in prison.

U.S. District Judge Larry Allan Burns in San Diego spared the disgraced Republican lawmaker the 10-year maximum sentence sought by prosecutors, the maximum available under a court-approved plea agreement, but ordered the longest term ever given to a congressman.

Cunningham, who was taken into custody immediately, also was ordered to pay $1.8 million in restitution.

An eight-term member of Congress and a former Navy “top gun” pilot, Cunningham, 64, choked up as he told Judge Burns that he had “ripped my life to shreds due to my actions, my actions that I did to myself.”

“I made a very wrong turn. I rationalized decisions I knew were wrong. I did that, sir,” he said.

Cunningham’s attorney, Lee Blalack, argued for a six-year sentence, saying his client “has been humiliated by his own name. … He is estranged by those he knows. He will go to jail. Under that scenario, no member of Congress can conclude that he got away.”

In the courtroom was Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, who greeted Cunningham as he arrived with a hug. The two men served together during the Vietnam War and are longtime friends.

In November, Cunningham admitted to federal charges of mail fraud, wire fraud and income-tax evasion, acknowledging he underreported his income in 2004. He resigned from Congress after his guilty plea, and in a tearful statement to reporters at the time, said he planned to make amends for his actions, saying he had known “great joy and great sorrow” in his life, and that he now knows “great shame.”

Federal prosecutors said Cunningham “demanded and received” bribes from defense contractor Mitchell Wade, founder of MZM Inc., in exchange for official favors. They said Wade also let Cunningham live rent-free on his yacht, the Duke Stir, at the Capital Yacht Club, and that MZM Inc. donated generously to Cunningham’s campaigns.

Wade, who stepped down as the company’s president, admitted in federal court last week that he conspired to funnel more than $1 million in bribes to Cunningham. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy, using interstate facilities to promote bribery, and election fraud. He faces a possible 11-year prison sentence and a fine.

MZM Inc. is a high-tech national-security company that provides intelligence-gathering, technology and homeland-security analysis and consulting for both international and domestic governments and private-sector clients. The company also provides consulting on political and public message strategies. Its clients include Congress, the White House, the Defense Department, the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force and state and local governments.

Prosecutors said Cunningham and his wife, Nancy, took illegal gains from the November 2003 sale of their home in Del Mar Heights, Calif., and used the money to buy another house in an exclusive area of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. The records show Wade purchased the Cunningham home for $1.67 million and sold it eight months later for a $700,000 loss. They said that a month after selling the Del Mar Heights home, the Cunninghams bought the five-bedroom, eight-bathroom house in Rancho Santa Fe for $2.55 million.

The government had sought to seize the new home as the product of a criminal venture, much as it seizes property from drug dealers, organized-crime figures and other criminals. Cunningham agreed to forfeit the house to the government, along with more than $1.8 million in cash, antiques and rugs.

Cunningham was a member of two House committees that review the Pentagon budget and had influence over the awarding of defense contracts.

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