Former Congressman Duncan D. Hunter Sentenced to 11 Months in Prison for Stealing Campaign Funds
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Emily W. Allen (619) 546-9738; Mark Conover (619) 546-6763 and Phillip L.B. Halpern (619) 546-6964
NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – March 17, 2020
SAN DIEGO – Former U.S. Representative Duncan D. Hunter was sentenced today to 11 months in prison for his admitted role in a years-long conspiracy to knowingly and willfully steal $250,000 in campaign funds that he and his wife used to maintain their lifestyle when their family was otherwise drowning in debt.
U.S. District Judge Thomas J. Whelan handed down the sentence and ordered Hunter to surrender to the Bureau of Prisons by May 29 at noon. The judge refused the defendant’s request to impose a sentence where Hunter would have served part or all of his sentence in home confinement, explaining that “the number of years and the amount of transactions” made such sentence inappropriate because this wasn’t a single act of theft but a crime committed repeatedly over almost a decade.
“Congressman Hunter violated the trust of his supporters by using hundreds of thousands of dollars they donated in good faith to his reelection campaign for personal expenditures,” said David Leshner, Attorney for the United States. Leshner praised prosecutors Phil Halpern, Emily Allen and Mark Conover as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation for their tireless pursuit of justice in this case: “These prosecutors conducted the investigation with the utmost professionalism, and they exemplify the Department of Justice’s commitment to upholding the rule of law. This case would not have been possible without their hard work, talent, and dedication to the pursuit of justice.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Phil Halpern, in arguing for a strong sentence, told the court: “Rather than admit his guilt and resign his seat when the charges came to light, or even when he was originally charged, Hunter chose to mislead the more than 700,000 people who live in the 50th congressional district.” “As we now know, Hunter lied to the people about his guilt. Not once, but countless times. As a result of his duplicity, the voters were robbed of their right to representation in Congress – representation they are denied to this day. A price must be exacted when an elected representative seeks to cover up corruption by hiding behind lies.”
The government had sought a sentence of 14 months, but prosecutors said they were pleased with the outcome of the case. “We have the utmost respect for Judge Whelan, who is probably the most experienced judge on the federal bench,” Halpern said. “If Judge Whelan believed this to be the appropriate sentence, then it certainly was.”
As court filings show, both Hunter and his wife, Margaret, who also pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 7, used hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds as their personal piggy bank from 2010 through 2016. During that time, the Hunters stole money from the campaign for items as inconsequential as fast food, movie tickets and sneakers; as trivial as video games, Lego sets and Playdoh; as mundane as groceries, dog food, and utilities; and as self-indulgent as luxury hotels, overseas vacations and plane tickets for their family pet rabbits, Eggburt and Cadbury. Hunter gave his wife access to campaign funds so that she could subsidize their personal lifestyle, and repeatedly ignored his senior staff when they tried to rein in the rampant personal spending. When questions arose and the case went public, he falsely blamed his wife and family rather than taking responsibility for the crime.
“Public corruption erodes public confidence and undermines the strength of our democracy,” said Omer Meisel, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the San Diego Division of the FBI. “The FBI is committed to investigate public officials who abuse the public trust and use their office to commit illegal acts.”
As detailed in the sentencing papers filed in court, beginning in 2010 and continuing up to late 2016, Duncan and Margaret Hunter agreed to use campaign funds for their own personal benefit and enjoyment—and to spend freely from Hunter’s campaign donors’ funds. Many of the Hunters’ personal outings with family or friends (which included trips to the Del Mar racetrack, dinners or drinks with friends, family and “couples” vacations, golf outings, and a weekend-long bachelor party) should not have been paid for with campaign funds. Among their improper spending, the Hunters paid $2,448.27 in campaign funds in August 2011 for a “couples” vacation in Las Vegas, Nevada, which Hunter concealed by falsely reporting to the campaign treasurer that the expenses were all “campaign related.” His friend, however, described the weekend as a “pure vacation” where the foursome enjoyed Las Vegas restaurants, lounging by the pool, sightseeing, and taking in a show. In order to conceal his illegal spending that weekend, Hunter went so far as to schedule a 20 minute tour of a charter school. Similarly, later that same month, knowing that their family bank account had a negative balance, the Hunters improperly used $113.73 in campaign funds to pay their half of the bill during another couples’ “date night” out with good friends at Jake’s Del Mar; improperly used $156.22 in campaign funds during a “couples” day at the Del Mar Racetrack; and improperly used $511.03 in campaign funds at the Hotel del Coronado to celebrate their child’s birthday. Hunter once again falsely told the campaign treasurer that all these charges were “campaign related.”
Previously, Hunter’s wife, Margaret, publicly acknowledged that these types of improper expenses went on for years and included spending as flagrant as: (1) $100.69 on November 16, 2013 at Casa De Pico in La Mesa to take their family and close friends out to dinner in relation to their son’s little league football game; (2) $1,489 on June 28, 2014 to treat their good friends to dinner at the Studio restaurant in the Montage Laguna Beach resort, and for room service, drinks, and meals the next day for the Hunters by themselves; (3) a family trip to Disneyland on September 26, 2015, which included $229.44 at Disneyland’s Star Trader shop for Minnie Mouse ear headbands and Star Wars-themed clothes for the Hunters’ children; and (4) $669.07 on March 27, 2016 at the Hotel del Coronado for a family Easter Sunday brunch in the Crown Room that the Hunters recognized was well outside their budget.
In her plea agreement, Margaret Hunter specifically acknowledged that she and Duncan Hunter used campaign funds to secretly make thousands of dollars in improper personal purchases (including family vacations, household goods and groceries, restaurants and bar tabs, a bachelor party, gas, fast food, retail shopping, cash withdrawals, a garage door, and personal Uber rides, among others) which they continued to disguise as campaign-related expenses.
Hunter enabled the theft by repeatedly providing his wife with a campaign credit card despite the advice from his treasurer that he not do so. Similarly, Hunter – against the advice of his campaign staff and congressional office staff – installed Margaret as his paid campaign manager on two separate occasions with full knowledge that she was misappropriating campaign funds in order to finance their personal lifestyle. When discussing her appointment as the salaried campaign manager for the second time in 2014, Margaret observed that Hunter “need[ed] the extra money as much as I do[.]”
According to court documents, the Hunters used campaign funds improperly on various family vacations, including:
- A July 2014 vacation to Washington, D.C. and a resort in Pennsylvania (which included personal items and activities such as purchasing cigarettes, $399 for zip lining for Hunter and two of his children, and $250 in airline travel charges for Eggburt);
- A February 2015 family trip to Minnesota, during which they improperly paid for personal family expenses including $250 in airline travel charges for Eggburt, and $132 in Uber rides to take the Hunter family to the Mall of America;
- A June/July 2015 family vacation to Hunter’s cousin’s wedding in Boise, Idaho, and a stopover in Las Vegas, in which the Hunters, among other things, spent $205.62 in campaign funds for personal items (including a pair of designer sunglasses for Hunter) at the North Face store;
- A November 2015 family vacation to Italy, in which the Hunters improperly used more than $14,000 in campaign funds, which Hunter justified by attempting to set up a one-day tour of a U.S. Navy facility in Italy (which never occurred);
- Similarly, Hunter used more than $1,000 in campaign funds to take one of his girlfriends on a 2010 winter ski trip to the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino.
Hunter turned to campaign funds because his family’s finances were in constant disarray. During the course of the conspiracy, the Hunters overdrew their bank account more than 1,100 times in a seven-year period resulting in $37,761 in “overdraft” and “insufficient funds” bank fees. Their credit cards were frequently charged to the credit limit, often with five-figure balances, resulting in an additional $24,600 in finance charges, interest, and other fees related to late, over the limit, and returned payment fees.
Sentencing documents show that Hunter and his wife both recognized that campaign funds were being spent on personal activities. For example, after returning home from their Boise and Las Vegas vacation, Duncan and Margaret Hunter discussed how the campaign card had been declined as the family had “racked up a $600 minibar…and more charges at Caesars…” as well as a $200 family breakfast, the “kids room service” and pool drinks, and gift shop purchases. And, despite falsely telling the campaign treasurer that the various charges related to their 2015 Italy vacation “were mostly military/defense meet related,” Margaret Hunter emailed a friend that “Italy was amazing. Truly our best family trip so far. Like that saying ‘if traveling was free you’d never see me again’!” For his part, Hunter “doubled down” on this lie by having his Chief of Staff deny to the press that that the trip was a family vacation.
DEFENDANTS Case Number 18cr3677-W
Duncan D. Hunter Age: 43 Alpine, CA
Margaret E. Hunter Age: 44 La Mesa, CA
SUMMARY OF CHARGE
Conspiracy to Steal Campaign Funds – Title 18, U.S.C., Sec. 371
Federal Bureau of Investigation