SAN DIEGO – The wife of former California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter was sentenced Monday in U.S. court to eight months of home confinement after pleading guilty to misusing more than $150,000 in campaign funds in a corruption case that ended her husband’s career.
Government attorneys noted Margaret Hunter’s cooperation with the prosecution of her husband in arguing against putting her behind bars and for allowing her to serve the sentence at home. Her confinement was ordered to begin immediately. She was also sentenced to three years probation.
“I’m deeply sorry,” Hunter told the judge, her voice breaking up as she cried before being sentenced.
Last year, Margaret and Duncan Hunter each pleaded guilty to a single corruption count of misspending more than $150,000 in campaign funds. She also had agreed to testify against her husband.
Margaret Hunter had served as campaign manager for her husband, who represented a district east of San Diego. He suggested at one point that she was to blame for any financial problems. Prosecutors said the couple were both in on the scheme.
In the plea agreements, they conceded engaging in more than 30 illegal transactions totaling more than $200,000 between 2010 and 2016.
Margaret Hunter detailed how she and her husband knowingly used the campaign’s credit card for six years to bankroll trips to Italy, Las Vegas and Disneyland.
She said other expenses charged on the card included $500 in airline travel expenses for their pet bunny, Eggburt; and $351 for a family lunch in connection with a child’s Irish dance competition.
They tried to conceal the illegal spending in federal campaign finance reports, prosecutors said.
Margaret Hunter had faced a maximum possible sentence of five years in jail. But U.S. Assistant Attorney Mark Conover said her cooperation was critical in obtaining the congressman's conviction without going to trial. He called her sentence of home confinement fair.
“Miss Hunter's criminal conduct was significant no doubt," he said. “But Miss Hunter's cooperation was extraordinary."
He added that she had to “withstand being thrown under the bus by her husband, being blamed for this."
A broke and debt-saddled Duncan Hunter cavalierly spent campaign money on everything from $462 in tequila shots to small things, such as a tin of chewing tobacco, and a copy of the book, “Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid,” according to prosecutors.
After he was caught, he ran for reelection and tried to convince voters that as a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, he was the victim of a political witch hunt by left-leaning prosecutors trying to drive him out of office in Democratic California.
“Her cooperation made us be able to bring all these facts to light to prove that this was in fact a righteous prosecution and that the Department of Justice was motivated only by the facts and the law," Conover said.
Duncan Hunter had asked the court to spare the mother of his three children jail time when he was sentenced in March to 11 months in prison after pleading guilty. His date to report to prison was pushed back until January because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Hunter’s departure from Congress ended his family’s political dynasty in which he and his father, Duncan L. Hunter, represented the San Diego County district for nearly 30 years. The combat Marine veteran served 11 years in Congress.
His resignation from Congress last January left vacant one of the GOP’s few remaining House seats in California.