SAN DIEGO — A federal prosecutor vowed Tuesday to seek jail time for California Rep. Duncan Hunter after he pleaded guilty Tuesday to misusing $150,000 in campaign funds for his own personal expenses.
The six-term Republican, who had fought the allegations for more than a year, showed no emotion in the courtroom and only spoke in affirming his guilty plea.
Outside the federal courthouse in San Diego, Hunter, 42, offered a brief statement, saying, “I failed to monitor and account for my campaign spending. I made mistakes and that’s what today was all about.” He said he would discuss his future later.
In his plea deal, Hunter said he and his wife dipped into the election funds between 2010 and 2016 more than 30 times and tried to hide it by falsely reporting the expenses — from their daughter’s birthday party at the famed Hotel Del Coronado to an outing with friends in Washington at a french bistro — were campaign related.
An early supporter of President Donald Trump’s 2016 election bid, Hunter is the second Republican congressman to pleaded guilty to federal charges this year.
The former combat Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan declined to say when he would leave office, where he has spent 11 years. He left the courthouse accompanied by his father, former Rep. Duncan Hunter Sr.
Hunter is scheduled to be sentenced March 17, two weeks after the primary election.
Hunter’s departure will mark the end of a political dynasty in Southern California’s most Republican district. His father represented the district for 28 years prior to Hunter’s 2008 election.
Prosecutor Phil Halpern noted Hunter’s honorable service in the Marine Corps and his family’s place in the 50th congressional district. But he had a sharp rebuke for the congressman’s claim that the investigation was a politically motivated “witch-hunt.”
“No figure, regardless of what office they occupy, should be allowed in this country to cry witch-hunt or fake news and attempt to deflect their criminal wrongdoings,” Halpern said.
Halpern vowed to seek a prison term for Hunter and said the minimum amount would be one year, but he could ask for a longer sentence. The plea agreement calls for the congressman to serve a maximum of five years. A judge will determine his ultimate sentence.
Rather than re-election, Halpern said, “Mr. Hunter now faces resignation, disgrace and imprisonment.”
Hunter left the courthouse to jeers of “Lock him up.”
Hunter and his wife were initially charged with 60 criminal counts and prosecutors accused them of spending about $250,000 in campaign funds on everything from luxury family vacations to Italy and Hawaii to private school tuition for their children to airline tickets for their family’s pet rabbit.
Prosecutors also revealed Hunter spent some of the money on romantic relationships with lobbyists and congressional aides.
His wife Margaret Hunter accepted a plea deal in June that called for her to testify against her husband. His wife faces up to five years in prison, though Halpern said Tuesday her cooperation had helped the prosecution and they had not determined yet if they will seek jail time for her.
Halpern said the federal investigation started after reports by The San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Morgan Cook, who wrote about questionable campaign money being tracked to video games and school lunches for Hunter’s children. That demonstrated the importance of a free press, Halpern said.
With plea deals, Hunter and his wife admitted to the main charges, Halpern said.
For more than a year, Hunter had insisted that criminal charges against him and his wife were the result of a conspiracy of the “deep state” meant to drive him from office in the Democrat-dominated state.
Hunter told San Diego TV station KUSI in an interview that aired Monday that a trial would be tough on his three children. He said he hopes his wife is spared jail time and that he is prepared to go to prison.
In October, former four-term Republican Rep. Chris Collins of New York pleaded guilty in an insider trading case, a day after he resigned from Congress. He faces a maximum sentence of about four years in prison.