« 'Theorizing Mental Health Courts" | Main | Former NC Governor to cop a state plea to end federal investigation »

November 23, 2010

Former congressman Duke Cunningham lamenting decision to plead guilty for sentencing break

As reported in this San Diego Union Tribune article, "Randy 'Duke' Cunningham, the disgraced former congressman from Rancho Santa Fe, said in an interview from prison that he regrets pleading guilty almost five years ago to conspiracy and tax evasion charges, and that he did so on the advice of his lawyers when he was physically and emotionally weakened." Here is more:

Prosecutors said he accepted millions in money, gifts, meals and trips from defense contractors Brent Wilkes and Mitchell Wade.  Before admitting guilt, Cunningham — like all defendants — had to say he was doing so voluntarily and was not under duress.

But the former congressman now says that at the time he was physically weak from having dropped close to 100 pounds from cancer treatments and other maladies.  He said he had not eaten for two weeks when his lawyers came to him with the proposed 33-page plea agreement.

He said he balked at first, but lawyers Mark Holscher and K. Lee Blalack told him if he challenged the charges it would cost him millions to fight the case, and he would risk spending the rest of his life in prison.

“Was I knowingly and intelligently signing that thing? I don’t think so in the condition I was in,” he said last week.  “But I trusted my (lawyers).”  He said he did so because he believed and was told he would get a year or two off of his prison term.

Neither Holscher nor Blalack represents Cunningham anymore, and neither could be reached for comment.  When he was sentenced in 2006, Burns gave Cunningham credit for cooperating with prosecutors.  But since then he has failed to a get a further sentence reduction for his help in prosecuting Wilkes.

Cunningham, speaking in a strong and resonant voice, reiterated claims he recently made in a declaration filed in support of a new trial for Wilkes, the former Poway defense contractor convicted of bribing the congressman to get him to use his influence to steer government contracts to Wilkes.

In that declaration and in last week’s interview, Cunningham said Wilkes never bribed him. He also said prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego did not put him on the stand in Wilkes’ trial because his testimony would undermine parts of their case.

Those statements contradict earlier court filings from Cunningham when he was seeking time off for cooperating with prosecutors. In those filings from January, he referred to the “bribes” that Wilkes gave him through a third man, New York financier Thomas Kontogiannis, to pay off mortgages for Cunningham’s Rancho Santa Fe mansion....

He said his time in prison has made him an emerging advocate for prison reform. “I didn’t know jack weenie about what people were going through in here,” he said.

When he served in Congress from 1991 to 2005, Cunningham was a reliable vote for harsher sentencing laws and stricter punishment, but now he says he would do things differently.  For example, votes that made penalties for crack cocaine harsher than for powder cocaine were wrong, he said.

Cunningham said he wants to become a more public advocate for prison and prosecutorial reform.  He said he has written members of Congress volunteering his help — and said that Democratic congressmen will probably be more supportive of his efforts than his former Republican colleagues.

November 23, 2010 at 12:21 AM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Former congressman Duke Cunningham lamenting decision to plead guilty for sentencing break:


No. You fire the traitor lawyers. You start with total e-discovery on the prosecutor for any improper motive, and for any exculpatory evidence, in accordance with Rule 3.8 (d), and the Brady Doctrine. Next, the same discovery on the appalling cult criminal on the bench. Publish all embarrassing findings. Make them suffer enough to ask you for a plea bargain to stop. They give no quarter, so they should receive none. These are cult criminals. They are out to destroy our economy, by defunding and plundering all productive entities, while nearly immunizing their good client the violent criminal. There are 20 million major crimes a year, and 2 million prosecutions. Commit serious crime, even murder, there is very little chance of being prosecuted.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 23, 2010 4:52:42 AM

Honestly this pretty much sounds like someone trying to weasel their way out of responsibility. I'm not impressed when it's some small time hood and I'm not impressed when it's a former representative. Even the honest services cases aren't of help to Cunningham since his conduct actually involved accepting illicit money.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Nov 23, 2010 11:54:34 AM

I agree with Soronel. I would also say that if Mr. Cunningham wanted to go back on his solemn statements when he entered his plea, I (were I back in my old post as an AUSA) would let him (which I would not be legally obliged to do). But there would be one proviso: He would face trial on all the original counts, no bargain, no nothin' (since he has shown he's unwilling to keep up his end). I would also tell him that, immediately following that trial, I would put him on trial for perjury in stating the first time around that his plea was fully voluntary.

If hooligans like this (yes, Republican) legislator want to play games with the system, it's time to show them that the Justice Department can play harder than they can.

Moral of story: Don't play at all. It ain't a game.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 23, 2010 6:27:41 PM

Bill Otis...it sounds like Duke did play the game and cooperated with the prosecutors and still got hosed. Or at least he thinks he did. One further point...I wonder if the defense attorneys informed Duke that the Feds would take every dime he had in pension money and he would be penniless when released at age 71?

Posted by: Mike | Nov 23, 2010 10:23:21 PM

Mike --

As I was saying, if it were up to me, I would let him out of his plea deal and try him on every single charge. And then for perjury.

The truth behind plea deals is that defendants take them because they know they're almost certainly better off doing so than facing the mountain of evidence the government would produce at trial.

If Cunningham has forgotten this, I would be happy to provide the reminder. As for his loss of pension, that is not his lawyers' fault. It's his fault for being a rapacious crook year after year. When you get convicted of the felonies he committed, that's what happens.

There are plenty of "penniless" people in this world who deserve sympathy way before this guy does.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 23, 2010 11:34:14 PM


"The truth behind plea deals is that defendants take them because they know they're almost certainly better off doing so than facing the mountain of evidence the government would produce at trial."

I think it's an even BIGGER truth that the average american knows we now have a bunch of criminals now running the country INCLUDING the court system who are busy raping the populace for every DIME they can find and have no problem using FAKED evidence....lieing testimony from anyone they need to get it. Then add in the MULTIPLE charges for the same 5 sec crime....what idiot would take it to a jury. Especially when all the jury's are been rendered BRAIN DEAD by the broken school system and the justice department itself.

Posted by: rodsmith | Nov 24, 2010 9:55:35 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB