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Sat, Mar 04, 2006

'Duke' Cunningham Sentenced To Eight Years For Bribery

Led From Courtroom... To A Waiting Jail Cell

"You've undermined the opportunity [that] honest politicians have to do good." It was with that damning statement that US District Court Judge Larry A. Burns ordered Randall "Duke" Cunningham -- war hero, "Top Gun" instructor and, most recently, disgraced former US congressman -- to eight years and four months in a federal prison for bribery.

Burns also ordered Cunningham Friday to pay $1.8 million in restitution, and refused Cunningham's request for a week to say goodbye to his family -- including his 91-year-old mother. US Marshals led "Duke" from the courtroom -- and to a waiting prison cell.

This latest chapter in Cunningham's saga is an ignoble twist on a storied life -- but Cunningham would seem to have only himself to blame.

As Aero-News reported last November, Cunningham (below right, in happier times) pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy and tax evasion, and then resigned his congressional seat after he was charged with taking at least $2.4 million in bribes, and evading more than $1 million in taxes.

Those bribes took a variety of forms -- everything from cash and checks, to complicated mortgage swap deals and underpriced SUVs -- "and other sweetheart deals that were, if not too good to be true, definitely too good to be legal," Aero-News wrote in our November report.

Before receiving his sentence Friday, Cunningham threw himself on the mercy of the court -- and the public -- one final time.

"After years of service to my country, going the right way, I made a very wrong turn," Cunningham said in a plea for clemency. "No man has ever been more sorry."

"Some say I've lost everything," he added. "But, your Honor, you have no idea. I have three children. I asked them to stay away. I didn't want them to go through this spectacle."

In response, Burns told Cunningham -- whom his lawyers described as suicidal, depressed and in chronic pain from his war injuries -- he intended to give him the maximum sentence of 10 years under terms of the plea agreement. Burns reduced the prison sentence, however, in light of Cunningham's military service.

"You weren't wet. You weren't cold. You weren't hungry and yet you did these things," Burns told Cunningham at his sentencing, according to media reports.

Cunningham served just over 15 years in Congress, having been elected to eight terms in his heavily-Republican district in northern San Diego County. In was shortly the November 2004 that things fell apart for Cunningham, after the Washington bureau of the San Diego Union-Tribune ran a story alleging defense contractor Mitchell Wade had paid a heavily inflated price for Cunningham's old house.

Cunningham's former chief of staff -- who resigned three months before the story broke, to become a lobbyist -- reportedly recognized the sale price of the house as a bribe, and told Cunningham to at least not run for reelection lest the story become public.

It was a warning that Cunningham ignored, federal prosecutors alleged.

FMI: www.acepilots.com/vietnam/cunningham.html

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