The wife of U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., pleaded guilty Thursday to one criminal count in a case in which she and her husband were accused of using more than $200,000 in campaign funds for personal use — including lavish dinners, vacations, private school for their children, and even plane tickets for their pet rabbit.
Margaret Hunter, who has also agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, admitted in U.S. District Court in San Diego that she had conspired with her husband to violate campaign finance law.
“I am deeply remorseful, and I apologize,” Margaret Hunter, 44, said through her lawyers, Tom McNamara and Logan Smith. “I have accepted full responsibility for my conduct.” She will face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when she is sentenced Sept. 16, about a week after Duncan Hunter is to go on trial.
Hunter, a former Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan who was first elected in 2008 to a seat held by his father, did not attend the hearing Thursday. But in a statement, he said that the case was politically motivated.
“I do not have the full details of Margaret’s case, but it’s obvious that the Department of Justice went after her to get to me for political reasons,” he said. “The fact remains that this entire matter should have been handled by the Federal Election Commission.”
In a statement before the hearing, Gregory Vega, Duncan Hunter’s lawyer, said Margaret Hunter’s guilty plea would not have an immediate impact on his client’s case.
“At this time, that does not change anything regarding Congressman Hunter,” Vega said, according to the San Diego Tribune. “There are still significant motions that need to be litigated.”
Duncan Hunter has sought to blame his wife for the corruption charges, saying in a 2018 Fox News interview that she was responsible for the couple’s finances.
“Whatever she did, that will be looked at, too, I’m sure,” he said. “I didn’t do it. I didn’t spend any money illegally.”
Duncan Hunter has also responded to the charges by blaming a “deep state” conspiracy.
Margaret Hunter’s decision to plead guilty to a single corruption count and agreement to cooperate with prosecutors comes 10 months after she and her husband were indicted by a federal grand jury in San Diego on dozens of charges of misusing campaign funds from 2010 through 2016, and filing false campaign finance records with the Federal Election Commission.
The indictment in August 2018 was the result of a monthslong criminal investigation into allegations that Duncan Hunter spent tens of thousands of dollars in campaign funds on family trips to Hawaii and Italy, private school tuition for his children and even airline tickets for a pet rabbit named Eggburt.
The 47-page indictment detailed scores of instances in which the Justice Department said the Hunters spent campaign money on themselves as they lived well beyond their means, overdrawing their bank accounts more than 1,000 times.
Beyond the family vacations and private school tuition, the indictment said expenses included dental work, theater tickets and domestic and international travel for almost a dozen relatives, as well as “tens of thousands of dollars on smaller purchases, including fast food, movie tickets, golf outings, video games, coffee, groceries, home utilities and expensive meals,” according to a statement released by the Justice Department.
According to Margaret Hunter’s plea agreement, she has agreed to provide “substantial assistance to the United States in the investigation and prosecution of others,” and “to tell everything [she] knows about every person involved,” according to the Justice Department statement.
In the statement provided by her lawyers, Margaret Hunter said: “I understand there will be more consequences stemming from my actions. But as demonstrated this morning in entering the plea, I have taken the first step to face those consequences.”