- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Former Rep. Randall “Duke” Cunningham faces 10 years in prison for accepting $2.4 million in bribes, but how long he actually spends behind bars may depend on his willingness to cooperate with an ongoing investigation into contracting fraud on Capitol Hill.

Cunningham, an eight-term California Republican, agreed in a 33-page plea bargain this week to provide “substantial cooperation” concerning other, unnamed co-conspirators, even promising to submit to a polygraph examination to determine his truthfulness. He is scheduled for sentencing Feb. 27.

Four co-conspirators are listed in the agreement, although they are not identified by name. They are accused of conspiring with Cunningham to bribe a public official, defraud the government and evade income taxes. Prosecutors have suggested that additional indictments may be sought in the case.

One of the co-conspirators is thought to be Mitchell Wade, founder of a Washington-based defense contractor known as MZM Inc. Mr. Wade has since resigned from MZM. The firm has received more than $163 million in federal contracts over the past decade, mostly for the gathering and analysis of intelligence data.

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. They said Mr. Wade purchased the Cunningham home for $1.67 million and sold it eight months later for a $700,000 loss.

Washington lawyer Joseph Cammarata said Cunningham’s eventual sentence could depend heavily on recommendations made to the judge by federal prosecutors, which will be based on his level of cooperation.

“Right now, he’s their man, and he’s got to do everything they want,” Mr. Cammarata said. “In putting together the building blocks of a case, they’ll want to know how the transactions went down and how the money got to the congressman. They’ll want to know what the co-conspirators wanted and what they got.”

Mr. Cammarata said that while Cunningham publicly has expressed remorse, recognized that what he did was wrong and agreed to help prosecutors bring others involved to justice, “he’s got to come clean” to gain a favorable sentencing recommendation.

“He’s cooked if he gets amnesia or is slow and miserly in providing the information they want,” he said.

The plea agreement said Cunningham, 63, a former Navy “Top Gun” pilot during the Vietnam War, “demanded, sought and received at least $2.4 million in illicit payments and benefits,” including cash, checks, meals, travel, lodging, furniture, antiques, rugs, yacht club fees, boats, boat repairs and moving expenses. It said the conspiracy began in 2000 when his seniority gave him the necessary political power to influence the award of defense contracts.

Cunningham pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, admitting to charges of mail fraud, wire fraud and income-tax evasion, acknowledging he underreported his income in 2004.

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