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
This latest chapter in Cunningham's saga is an ignoble twist on
a storied life -- but Cunningham would seem to have only himself to
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
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
It was a warning that Cunningham ignored, federal prosecutors