Every fall, I co-teach an Anti-Corruption Seminar at GW Law School. My favorite class (besides the FCPA, of course), covers the domestic bribery and gratuities statute and government gift rules (as well as other ethics & procurement integrity requirements). Each year, my lecture involves a motley cast of characters, including Darleen Druyun, David Safavian, Jack Abramoff, and (former eight-term Congressman) Randy “Duke” Cunningham.
I was, therefore, greatly interested to read about the former-Congressman’s release from prison this week. For the uninitiated, in 2005, Duke Cunningham pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud, tax evasion, as well as a substantive charge of tax evasion. Cunningham admitted to accepting at least $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors in exchange for steering government contracts to the companies.
The case began when the government began investigating Cunningham’s sale of his Del Mar-area home to defense contractor Mitchell Wade for an inflated price of $1,675,000 (Wade later sold the property for $975,000). Cunningham then used the proceeds from the inflated sale of his home to buy a $2.55 million mansion in Rancho Santa Fe.
The U-T San Diego newspaper has provided an excellent summary of the other bribes that Cunningham accepted in exchange for contracts and other favors. The charges in this case make clear that Cunningham flagrantly abused his position, including his powerful seat on the House Appropriations subcommittee.
The scandal cost Cunningham his job, reputation and freedom. In addition to spending seven years in prison, Cunningham also agreed to forfeit his house in Rancho Santa Fe, $1,851,508 in cash, and many other items, such as furniture and carpets. Although he was tearfully contrite at his sentencing, his remorse has not lasted. In 2011, Cunningham released pages from his “personal prison journal,” claiming that the charges against him were 90-95% untrue and that signing the agreement was a mistake. He also refers to the bribes as “gifts” and “reimbursements.”
He has also made several other bizarre and unapologetic statements that undermine most of the statements made at his sentencing. As the Washington Post notes:
Cunningham, who had his sentence cut 392 days for good behavior, wrote the judge last year that he would live on $1,700 a month after his release, saying the IRS “has me poor for the rest of my life.” He portrayed the loss of his home and other property as an example of how veterans are mistreated.
Now that Cunningham has been released from home confinement, it will be interesting to see what he does next. He has indicated that he has several options, but, “like a tenderfoot in the forest… [he is] just unsure where to find a branch to sit on.” He may not have found his branch, but it is pretty clear what he will do when he finds one (hint: it will definitely involve one of these……)
Jessica Tillipman is a senior editor of the FCPA Blog.