Guest Author - Tracey-Kay Caldwell
Placing a for sale sign on the nation’s capitol is what federal prosecutor accused Randall “Duke” Cunningham of in the sentencing memorandum filed with the courts February 17th, 2006. For almost a decade, Former Congressman Duke Cunningham accepted millions of dollars in exchange for awarding defense appropriations. On Congressional stationary, under the seal of congress, Duke Cunningham created a bribery menu. On the left side, he listed the government contracts that could be bought. On the right side, he listed the price. The first item on the menu was a $16 million dollar government contract. In the right column was BT, which represent the contractor giving up the title to his $140,000 boat. For each addition million dollars worth of government contracts, Cunningham charged $50,000. Once the contractor had paid $340,000 in bribes, Duke Cunningham gave him a discount, charging him only $25,000 for each additional million dollars in government contracts. Prosecutors said, “The length, breath, and depth of Cunningham’s crimes against the people of the United States are unprecedented for a sitting Member of Congress. So, too, should be his sentence.” Prosecutors recommended the maximum ten-year sentence.
Prosecutors cataloged his bribes as mundane—meals, travel, and hotel expenses; peculiar—buck knives and a lasershot simulator; audacious—moving expenses and payment of his capitol gains taxes; self indulgent—cars, yachts, homes, and an antique commode; and truly astonishing--$500,000 in two checks from a contractor. In total, Duke Cunningham has admitted to receiving over 2.4 million in bribes since 2000. When returning from a shopping trip with a contractor who had just purchased Cunningham $12,000 in antiques, Cunningham told the contractor he would make him “somebody.” The contractors company’s government contracts went from less than a million dollars a year to more than tens of millions per year. When a senior member of Cunningham’s staff questioned the purchase of a 1999 Suburban for only $10,000, Duke Cunningham slammed his hand on his desk and told the staffer to “stay the f--- out of my personal business." In an attempt to cover the obviously corrupt transaction, the staffer altered the DMV title to reflect an $18,000 sale price and ask Cunningham to pay the difference. Cunningham declined. The second portion of the memorandum details the great lengths Cunningham went to cover up his crimes. The final section explains why Cunningham should receive the maximum sentence. That Cunningham was the principal director of an extensive bribery, money laundering, and tax evasion scheme designed to enrich himself. That he alone decided who and how much they would pay for a government contract and how the money was to be concealed. It is on the basis of this stunning betrayal of trust that they recommended the maximum sentence.
Duke Cunningham was once a hero. He is a decorated veteran. His heroic feats as a combat pilot during the Vietnam War served as the basis of the Top Gun movie. He was elected to serve eight terms in Congress. As prosecutors stated, “he used his Congressional office to get rich. In doing so, Cunningham reneged on his obligation to execute his office with conscientious, loyal, faithful, disinterested, and unbiased service.” Cunningham’s attorney Lee Blalack called the prosecutors request for a ten year sentence “grossly excessive.” It seems to me that a “grossly excessive” sentence is appropriate for a “grossly excessive” crime.