By Ken Stone
Margaret Hunter faced as much as 37 months in prison for taking part in her ex-congressman husband’s spending crimes, the government said Monday, but it urged leniency in a sentencing memo to a federal judge.
Duncan D. Hunter’s wife since 1998 instead will get eight months’ “punitive home detention” and three years’ probation — with no fine — if prosecutors have their way at a hearing Monday.
In a 10-page memo filed Monday, prosecutors said Margaret Hunter deserves a break for her quick cooperation in the campaign finance case, which led to the Alpine Republican’s guilty plea and resignation from Congress. She also gets credit for being a supportive military wife.“Her very willingness to publicly admit her guilt went far towards rebutting Hunter’s dangerous false narrative that he was innocent and was being framed by a corrupt Department of Justice, false conspiracy theories, and disingenuous claims that the exposure of his corruption was ‘fake news,'” said the government. “In short, her assistance was extremely significant and especially useful.”
Assistant U.S. attorneys Emily Allen, Mark Conover and Philip Halpern gave ex-Rep. Hunter an extra smack in their memo to U.S. District Judge Thomas Whelan.
“If the Congressman had been innocent of the crimes which he has now admitted, his nationally publicized scapegoating of his wife would be shameful at best,” they wrote. “Rather than accept responsibility for his own actions precipitating and participating in this decade-long fraud, he tried to deflect attention onto his wife, who was more vulnerable and psychologically fragile. This action, of course, likely had the predictable result of increasing Margaret Hunter’s ongoing anxiety and depression.”
However, the memo didn’t address the role Duncan Hunter’s alleged womanizing had on making Margaret, 45, flip on him. Prosecutors documented thousands of dollars spent on affairs with unidentified lobbyists and congressional staffers.
Margaret, 44, changed her plea to guilty in June 2019 two weeks before prosecutors publicly detailed Duncan Hunter “romances” with five women starting as early as April 2009. (But the original 60-count indictment hinted of extramarital affairs, referring to five “personal relationships.”)
In a reported letter from Hunter attorney Gregory Vega, prosecutors told the defense that they had pictures of indiscretions, the U-T said.
“While there may be evidence of infidelity, irresponsibility or alcohol dependence, once properly understood, the underlying facts do not equate to criminal activity,” Vega wrote.
The San Diego Union-Tribune was first to report that Margaret’s lawyers sought no time behind bars.
“Margaret Hunter stands before the Court having pleaded guilty and accepted complete responsibility for her actions and their consequences,” said her lawyers’ sentencing memo. “She is deeply sorry and is prepared to accept whatever punishment the Court deems appropriate.”
Michael Harrison of Ramona, Hunter’s former deputy chief of staff, said Tuesday he had no comment “other than to defer to Congressman Hunter’s statement at his sentencing hearing in March where he spoke of his honor in serving his constituents, took responsibility for his actions and asked the court for no incarceration of the mother of his children.”
The government asked that Margaret’s home confinement — she’s reported to be living in La Mesa with her three children — not begin until January or later.
The delay would “ensure that Margaret Hunter does not benefit from the restrictions in travel and lifestyle that currently face all citizens” amid the COVID-19 crisis, prosecutors said.
Duncan Hunter’s 11-month sentence doesn’t begin until Jan. 4, the court ordered in May.
“Apart from his own theft of campaign funds, it remains uncontested that time and time again Duncan Hunter put his wife in a position to steal campaign funds with full knowledge that she would use those funds to support a lifestyle that they otherwise could not afford.”
The memo also noted a probation officer’s recommendation for a more lenient sentence for Margaret: “four months custody and four months of home detention (punitive) as a condition of supervised release.”
The government added that an analysis of her financial situation “makes it clear that she is presently unable to pay a fine. … Accordingly, the United States concurs with Probation’s recommendation that the Court impose no fine.”
The 17-page sentencing memo from Margaret’s lawyers — Thomas McNamara and Logan Smith — shed light on her history with Duncan Duane Hunter, the son of longtime Rep. Duncan Lee Hunter.
Among the revelations:
- Hunter “came home in September 2001 and informed Ms. Hunter that he had quit his job and signed up to join the Marines and fight for his country. There was no discussion of this decision beforehand with Ms. Hunter. While she was supportive of her husband and admired his courage, the unilateral nature of the decision caused tremendous stress for her.”
- While Hunter was in the Mideast, “media coverage of the conflict repeatedly focused on the deaths of servicemen and servicewomen, to the point where Ms. Hunter did not even want to turn on the television.”
- In 2008, “without consulting Ms. Hunter, her husband, with the urging ofhis father, decided that the family would move to San Diego, and he would run for Congress. Ms. Hunter opposed this decision, because her husband had pledged to her never to have a life in politics. … She was disappointed that this life-altering decision for their family had been made by her husband, with his father, and without her input.”
- Following revelations in 2016 of questionable campaign spending, “the Hunters paid back approximately $60,000 after conducting an internal audit. …. Paying back this sum of money required the Hunters to sell their house and move back in again with Mr. Hunter’s parents in 2016.”
- “In the spring of 2017” — aware of the FBI investigation and more than a year before her 2018 indictment — “Ms. Hunter reached out through her attorneys directly to the Government and informed the Assistant US Attorneys investigating her case that she wanted to enter into a plea agreement admitting that she had improperly converted campaign funds for personal use.”
- “When she agreed to cooperate and provide truthful information, Ms. Hunter was (and presently is) married to Mr. Hunter. She was also still living with him at the time. The Hunters, and their three children, were residing in Mr. Hunter’s parents’ house. Her decision to plead guilty and cooperate while still living under the same roof as her husband and his parents further ostracized her.”
- “Despite the awkwardness of these circumstances, she continued to remain at her in-laws’ home for an additional two months after her guilty plea, when she was finally able to move out with her daughters at the end of the summer (just before her son was starting college as a freshman and her daughters were starting school) and thereby separate from her husband.”
- “Ms. Hunter would ultimately like to get a job in education, although she understands the reality that her felony conviction will make this more difficult for her to accomplish. … She intends to try and set a better example [for her children] by working to obtain a college degree and securing a job.”
Updated at 3 p.m. Aug. 19, 2020
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