- The Washington Times - Monday, November 28, 2005

Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham of California pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court to conspiring to take $2.4 million in bribes in exchange for using his influence on Capitol Hill to help a Washington-based defense contractor get business.

Cunningham, 63, an eight-term Republican and a former Navy Top Gun pilot, entered the plea in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, admitting to government charges of mail fraud, wire fraud and income-tax evasion, acknowledging he underreported his income in 2004.

When asked by U.S. District Judge Larry Burns if he accepted bribes in exchange for his performance of official duties, Cunningham said: “Yes, your honor.”

Cunningham resigned from Congress after his guilty plea. In a tearful statement to reporters, he 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.”

Judge Burns set sentencing for Feb. 27, and after Cunningham was fingerprinted, he was released on his own recognizance. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

“He did the worst thing an elected official can do — he enriched himself through his position and violated the trust of those who put him there,” U.S. Attorney Carol Lam said.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California called Cunningham’s acceptance of bribes “an egregious action that strikes at the very heart of our democracy and dishonors the people he has been elected to represent.”

“It is only proper that he resign,” she said.

Federal prosecutors said that Cunningham, who announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election, “demanded and received” bribes from defense contractor Mitchell Wade, founder of MZM Inc., in exchange for official favors. They said Mr. 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.

Mr. Wade has since stepped down as the company’s president, and MZM Inc. has been sold to a private equity firm.

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 government clients include Congress, the White House, the Defense Department, the U.S. intelligence community, the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force and state and local governments, according to the company’s Web site.

Prosecutors, according to court records, said that 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 Mr. Wade purchased the Cunningham home for $1.67 million and sold it eight months later for a $700,000 loss.

The records also show 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 in a civil lawsuit 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. But Cunningham since has agreed to forfeit the house to the government, along with more than $1.8 million in cash and antiques and rugs.

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

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