|Randy "Duke" Cunningham|
January 3, 2003 – December 6, 2005
|Preceded by||Bob Filner|
|Succeeded by||Brian Bilbray|
January 3, 1993 – January 2, 2003
|Preceded by||New district|
|Succeeded by||Bob Filner|
January 3, 1991 – January 2, 1993
|Preceded by||Jim Bates|
|Succeeded by||Alfred A. McCandless|
|Born||December 8, 1941
Los Angeles, California
|Religion||Christian Churches/Churches of Christ|
Randall Harold Cunningham (born December 8, 1941), usually known as Randy or Duke, was a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from California's 50th Congressional District from 1991 to 2005.
Cunningham resigned from the House on November 28, 2005, after pleading guilty to accepting at least $2.4 million in bribes and underreporting his income for 2004. He pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud and tax evasion. On March 3, 2006, he received a sentence of eight years and four months in prison and an order to pay $1.8 million in restitution. Prior to his political career, he was an officer in the United States Navy for 20 years during which time he (along with William P. "Irish" Driscoll - his radio intercept officer) became the only Navy flying ace from the Vietnam War for obtaining five confirmed aerial victories during that conflict.
Cunningham was born in Los Angeles to Randall and Lela Cunningham, who both moved there from Oklahoma during the Depression. His father was a truck driver for Union Oil at the time. Around 1945, the family moved to Fresno, California, where Cunningham's father purchased a gas station. In 1953 they moved again, this time to rural Shelbina, Missouri, where his parents purchased and managed the Cunningham Variety Store, a five-and-dime. In Shelbina, Cunningham relished the times he spent hunting pheasant and deer with his father.
Cunningham married his first wife, the former Susan Albrecht, in 1965; they met in college and had one adopted son, Todd. Susan filed for divorce and a restraining order in January 1973, based on her claims of emotional abuse, and the divorce was granted nine months later. Cunningham later stated that in that year, his life hit "rock-bottom."
Cunningham met his second wife, Nancy D. Jones, at the Miramar Officers' Club in San Diego and they were married February 16, 1974. Nancy was born in 1952 and is also previously married. In 1976, she filed for divorce and a restraining order, stating that he "is a very aggressive spontaneously assaultive person, and I fear for my immediate physical safety and well being." Nancy later had a change of heart, so at her request, the court dismissed the divorce in January 1977. Nancy's declaration justifying the restraining order has been sealed by court order since 1990, when Duke first ran for congress. They have two daughters, April and Carrie. Dr. Nancy Cunningham is an educator for the Encinitas school district.
|Randall Harold Cunningham|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Navy|
|Years of service||1967–1987|
Silver Star (2)
"Flying Ace" status
|Other work||U.S. Representative, California|
Cunningham graduated from Shelbina High School in 1959. He attended Kirksville Teacher's College for one year before transferring to the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri. Cunningham graduated with a bachelor's degree in education and physical education in 1964; he obtained his M.A. in education the following year. He was hired as a physical education teacher and swimming coach at Hinsdale Central High School where he stayed for one year. Two members of his swim team competed in the 1968 Olympics, where they earned a gold and a silver medal. Cunningham joined the United States Navy in 1967.
During his service, Cunningham and his Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) "Irish" Driscoll became the only Navy aces in the Vietnam War, flying an F-4 Phantom from aboard aircraft carriers, and recording five confirmed kills. He was one of the early graduates of the Navy's TOPGUN school that taught dogfighting techniques to F-4 Phantom pilots and RIOs.
Cunningham downed a MiG-17 which was supposedly piloted by North Vietnam Air Force fighter ace Col. Nguyen Toon, aka, "Colonel Tomb". Although "Colonel Toon" was an American-manufactured myth, a North Vietnamese Air Force pilot from the 921st Fighter Regiment named Nguyen Van Coc did score 9 aerial victories during the war, and his aircraft (number 4326) was adorned with 13 air combat kills. Photographs of this particular MiG-21 had been circulated in numerous western publications during the late 1960s, which likely influenced the growth of the legendary "Colonel Tomb". Like many pilots on both sides, they flew what aircraft were available, and the 13 kill markings on MiG-21 #4326 were from several pilots within the 921st Fighter Regiment, including one aerial victory by Van Coc himself on May 7, 1968, when he downed an F-4 Phantom (tail #151485). Like many fighter pilots in most countries, they held a high regard for tough competition and the North Vietnamese Air Force, no doubt, helped perpetuate the myth of "Colonel Toon", or "Tomb". "Colonel Toon" was not only skilled but unorthodox, as Cunningham found out, when the Navy pilot made an elementary tactical error engaging him. Cunningham climbed steeply, and the MiG pilot surprised Cunningham by climbing as well. The resulting dogfight became extended, with both aircraft engaging in a series of vertical rolling scissors maneuvers. Remembering his TOPGUN training, Cunningham finally forced the MiG out ahead of him and destroyed it with an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile.
Cunningham was reportedly almost court-martialed while still in flight school for breaking into an office to compare his records with those of his colleagues — a charge denied by Cunningham, but supported by two of his superior officers at the time. Regardless of the controversy, there was little doubt about Cunningham's piloting abilities. He was one of the most highly decorated United States Navy pilots in the Vietnam War, receiving the Navy Cross once, the Silver Star twice, the Air Medal 15 times, and the Purple Heart for wounds he received under enemy fire.
After returning from Vietnam in 1972, he became an instructor at the Navy's TOPGUN school for fighter pilots at Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego. It has been stated that many of his real-life experiences in combat and as an instructor were depicted in the popular 1986 movie Top Gun. Though the movie's producer says the film was not based on any specific aviator, one particularly memorable scene was indeed inspired by Cunningham's own combat experience. The technique Cunningham and Driscoll used to defeat "Colonel Tomb", deploying the aircraft's speed brakes and causing "Tomb" to overshoot, inspired the scenes in Top Gun where Maverick defeats Jester, and later an enemy MiG, by deploying the brakes and forcing his opponent to overshoot his aircraft.
Cunningham was a commentator on the History Channel program "Dogfights: The Greatest Air Battles", in the Vietnam War segment, where he discussed his experiences as a fighter pilot. The episode originally aired September 16, 2005. Another interview with Cunningham was featured on the 1987 PBS broadcast of the NOVA special "Top Gun And Beyond", during which he recounted his engagement with the mysterious aviator known only by the name "Colonel Tomb".
In 1985, Cunningham earned an MBA from National University, a San Diego night school. He retired from the Navy with the final rank of Commander in 1987, settling in Del Mar, a suburb of San Diego. He became nationally known as a CNN commentator on naval aircraft in the run-up to the Persian Gulf War.
Cunningham's visibility as a CNN commentator led several Republican leaders to approach him about running in what was then the 44th District, one of four that divided San Diego. The district had been held for eight years by Democrat Jim Bates, and was considered the most Democratic district in the San Diego area. However, Bates was bogged down in a scandal involving charges of sexual harassment. Cunningham won the Republican nomination in 1990 and hammered Bates about the scandal, promising to be "a congressman we can be proud of." He won by just one percentage point, meaning that the San Diego area was represented entirely by Republicans for only the second time since the city was split into two districts after the 1960 census.
Congressional freshmen usually do not get much media attention outside of their home districts or states, but Cunningham's status as a Vietnam War hero made him an exception. Colleagues and the media admired him for his special knowledge of the armed forces: he played an important role in the debate on whether to use military force to make Iraq end its occupation of Kuwait. Guy Vander Jagt of Michigan, longtime chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said that Cunningham had considerable "drawing power" and was treated as a celebrity by his fellow Republicans.
After the 1990 census, redistricting renumbered the 44th District as the 51st and created the 50th District, splitting off a significant portion of San Diego County. At the same time, the 51st added several areas of heavily Republican North San Diego County. The new district included the home of Bill Lowery, a fellow Republican who had represented most of the other side of San Diego for the past 12 years. They faced one another in the Republican primary. Despite Lowery's seniority, his involvement in the House banking scandal hurt him. Cunningham repeated his promise from 1990 to be "a congressman we can be proud of." As polls showed Cunningham with a substantial lead, Lowery dropped out of the primary race, effectively handing Cunningham the nomination. He breezed to victory in November.
Even though the district (renumbered as the 50th after the 2000 census) is not nearly as conservative as the other two Republican-held districts in the San Diego area, Cunningham was reelected six times with no less than 55 percent of the vote.
Cunningham was a member of the Appropriations and Intelligence committees, and chaired the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Human Intelligence Analysis and Counterintelligence during the 109th Congress. He was considered a leading Republican expert on national security issues. He was also a champion of education, using his position on the Appropriations Education Subcommittee to steer federal dollars to schools in San Diego. After surgery for prostate cancer in 1998, he became a champion of early testing for the disease.
Cunningham was known for making intemperate outbursts. For example:
While Cunningham said that "I cut my own rudder" on issues, he had a very conservative voting record. He was often compared by liberal interest groups to former congressman Bob Dornan, with some justification; both are ardent conservatives, both are former military pilots, and both have become infamous for outbursts against perceived enemies. In 1992, Cunningham, along with Dornan and fellow San Diego Republican Duncan Hunter, challenged the patriotism of then-Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton before a near-empty House chamber, but still viewed by C-Span viewers.
In September 1996 Cunningham criticized President Clinton for appointing judges who were "soft on crime". "We must get tough on drug dealers," he said, adding that "those who peddle destruction on our children must pay dearly." He favored stiff drug penalties and voted for the death penalty for major drug dealers.
Four months later, his son Todd was arrested for helping to transport 400 pounds (181 kg) of marijuana from Massachusetts to California. Todd Cunningham pleaded guilty to possession and conspiracy to sell marijuana. At his son's sentencing hearing, Cunningham fought back tears as he begged the judge for leniency (Todd was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, in part because he tested positive for cocaine three times while on bail). Cunningham's press secretary responded to accusations of double standards with: "The sentence Todd got had nothing to do with who Duke is. Duke has always been tough on drugs and remains tough on drugs."
Cunningham was the lead sponsor of the Shark Finning Prohibition Act, which banned the practice of shark finning in all US waters and pushed America to the lead on efforts to ban shark finning worldwide. For his efforts Cunningham was named as a "Conservation Hero" by the Audubon Society and the Ocean Wildlife Campaign.
The proposed amendment has passed the House many times, but narrowly missed the requisite 2/3 majority vote for passage in the Senate.
Cunningham was the driving force behind the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act which was passed and signed into law by President George W. Bush in July 2004. The law grants the authority to non-federal law enforcement officers from any jurisdiction to carry a firearm anywhere within the jurisdiction of the United States.
|A U.S. political scandal in which government contracts were obtained with bribes to Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham.|
In June 2005 it was revealed that a defense contractor, Mitchell Wade, founder of the defense contracting firm MZM Inc. (since renamed Athena Innovative Solutions Inc.), had bought Cunningham's house in Del Mar for $1,675,000. A month later, Wade placed it back on the market where it remained unsold for 8 months until the price was reduced to $975,000. Cunningham was a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee; soon after the purchase, Wade began to receive tens of millions of dollars worth of defense and intelligence contracts. Cunningham claimed the deal was legitimate, adding, "I feel very confident that I haven't done anything wrong."
Later in June, it was further reported that Cunningham lived in a yacht aptly named the "Duke Stir" while he was in Washington. The yacht was owned by Wade; Cunningham paid only for maintenance. An article in the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper, reported that Cunningham liked to invite women to his yacht. Two of them said that he would change into pajama bottoms and a turtleneck sweater to entertain them with chilled champagne by the light of his favorite lava lamp. The Federal Bureau of Investigation launched an investigation regarding the real estate transaction. His home, MZM corporate offices, and Wade's home were all simultaneously raided by a number of federal agencies with warrants on July 1, 2005.
On July 14, Cunningham announced he would not run for a ninth term in 2006, saying that while he believed he'd be cleared of any wrongdoing, he could not defend himself and run for reelection at the same time. He admitted to displaying "poor judgment" when he sold his house to Wade.
Besides Wade, the three other co-conspirators are: Brent R. Wilkes, founder of San Diego-based ADCS Inc.; New York businessman Thomas Kontogiannis (whom U.S. Coast Guard records show was involved in a questionable boat deal with Cunningham); and John T. Michael, Kontogiannis' nephew (the owner of a New York-based mortgage company Coastal Capital Corp. Property records show the company made $1.15 million in real estate loans to Cunningham, two of which were used in the purchase of his Rancho Santa Fe mansion. Court records show that Wade paid off one of those loans).
In 1997, Cunningham pushed the Pentagon into buying a $20 million document-digitization system created by ADCS Inc., one of several defense companies owned by Wilkes. The Pentagon didn't want to buy the system. When it hadn't done so three years later, Cunningham angrily demanded the firing of Lou Kratz, an assistant undersecretary of defense he held responsible for the delays. It later emerged that Wilkes reportedly gave Cunningham more than $630,000 in cash and favors.
Cunningham was also criticized for selling merchandise on his personal website, such as a $595 buck knife featuring the official Congressional seal. He failed to obtain permission to use the seal, which is a federal offense.
On April 27, 2006, months after his guilty plea, Scot J. Patrow, writing for the Wall Street Journal, reported that, in addition to all the favors, gifts and money Cunningham received from defense contractors who wanted his help in obtaining contracts, Cunningham may have been provided with prostitutes, hotel rooms and limousines.
|Charge(s)||Conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud and tax evasion|
|Penalty||100 months (8 years, 4 months) imprisonment|
|Status||Imprisoned in Tucson|
|Occupation||Politician, former Congressman|
On November 28, 2005, Cunningham pled guilty to tax evasion, conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud in federal court in San Diego. Among the many bribes Cunningham admitted receiving were the house sale at an inflated price, the free use of the yacht, a used Rolls-Royce, antique furniture, Persian rugs, jewelry, and a $2,000 contribution for his daughter's college graduation party. Cunningham's attorney, Mark Holscher, later said that the government's evidence was so overwhelming that he had no choice but to recommend a guilty plea. With the plea bargain, Cunningham faced a maximum of 10 years; had he fought the charges, Cunningham risked spending the rest of his life in prison.
As part of his guilty plea, Cunningham agreed to forfeit his $2.55 million home in Rancho Santa Fe, which he bought with the proceeds of the sale of the Del Mar house. Cunningham initially tried to sell the Rancho Santa Fe house, but federal prosecutors moved to block the sale after finding evidence it was purchased with Wade's money. (Wade, with others, even paid off the balance Cunningham owed on the mortgage.) Cunningham will also forfeit more than $1.8 million in cash, antiques, rugs, and other items.
Also as part of the plea agreement, Cunningham agreed to help the government in its prosecution of others involved in the defense contractor bribery scandal. However, news reports surfaced stating that Cunningham was not cooperating with investigators despite the agreement. A week later, Cunningham, through his lawyer, announced that he was ready to cooperate.
Cunningham announced that he would resign from the House at a press conference just after entering his plea. He submitted his official resignation letter to the Clerk of the House and to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on December 6, 2005.
Had Cunningham declined to resign, his role in Congress would have been very limited, as House rules do not allow members convicted of felonies to vote or participate in committee work pending an investigation by the Ethics Committee. It is very likely that he would have been expelled from the House, as happened with Democrat James Traficant three years earlier. Under Republican caucus rules, he would have lost his subcommittee chairmanship.
In marked contrast to his defiant stand earlier in the year, Cunningham appeared very contrite, sullen and overcome by emotion when he read his prepared statement announcing that he was stepping down:
|“||When I announced several months ago that I would not seek re-election, I publicly declared my innocence because I was not strong enough to face the truth. So, I misled my family, staff, friends, colleagues, the public — even myself. For all of this, I am deeply sorry. The truth is — I broke the law, concealed my conduct, and disgraced my high office. I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions, and most importantly, the trust of my friends and family. ... In my life, I have known great joy and great sorrow. And now I know great shame. I learned in Viet Nam that the true measure of a man is how he responds to adversity. I cannot undo what I have done. But I can atone. I am now almost 65 years old and, as I enter the twilight of my life, I intend to use the remaining time that God grants me to make amends.||”|
Despite his guilty plea, Cunningham may still receive a pension for his 21 years of service in the Navy and almost 15 years in Congress. While federal law only allows the government to strip pensions from federal employees guilty of treason, perjury or trading secrets with the enemy, San Diego benefits expert Robert Goldstein told the San Diego Union-Tribune that it is possible the government could still try to take the money from Cunningham.
Darrell Issa, a Republican who represents the neighboring 49th District, said after Cunningham's plea that he'd been waiting for Cunningham to explain his behavior "in a way that made sense to us" and that Cunningham's behavior "fell below the standard the public demands of its elected representatives." Duncan Hunter, the other Republican who represents the San Diego area, said on November 30 that he and Cunningham spent the rest of November 28 in prayer and that Cunningham wanted to "serve those who are suffering (and) to begin his long road of atonement" for his crimes. Many of Cunningham's staffers were stunned at the extent of their boss's crimes.
Union-Tribune columnist George Condon suggested in a December 1 column that Cunningham's actions "may have put ... troops at greater risk by judging contracts more for what they would do for him than for the military."
Francine Busby, Cunningham's Democratic challenger in 2004 and the Democratic candidate for the 50th District in the runoff election to fill Cunningham's vacancy, called November 28 "a sad day for the people" and called for support for her proposed ethics reform bill, the "Clean House Act", saying that "our government in Washington is broken."
In an editorial on November 29, the Washington Post called the Cunningham affair "the most brazen bribery conspiracy in modern congressional history." Later that day, President George W. Bush called Cunningham's actions "outrageous" at a press briefing in El Paso. He also said that Cunningham should "pay a serious price" for his crimes. House Speaker Dennis Hastert said in a December 6 statement that Cunningham was a "war hero"; but that he broke "the public trust he has built through his military and congressional career." Several of Cunningham's former colleagues have donated the campaign contributions he had given them, to charity .
On February 9, 2006, Senator John Kerry introduced a bill, the "Federal Pension Forfeiture Act" (nicknamed the "Duke Cunningham Act"), to prevent lawmakers who have been convicted of official misconduct from collecting taxpayer funded pensions.
On March 3, 2006, U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns sentenced Cunningham to 100 months (eight years and four months) in prison. Federal prosecutors had pushed for the maximum sentence of ten years, but Cunningham's defense lawyers said that at 64 years old and with prostate cancer, Cunningham would likely die in prison if he received the full sentence. Judge Burns cited his military service in Vietnam, age, and health as the reason the full ten years was not imposed. Prosecutors announced that they were satisfied with the sentence, which is the longest jail term ever given to a former Congressman.
On the day of sentencing, Cunningham was 90 pounds (41 kg) lighter than when allegations first surfaced 9 months earlier. After receiving his sentence, Cunningham made a request to see his 91-year-old mother one last time before going to prison. "I made a very wrong turn. I rationalized decisions I knew were wrong. I did that, sir," Cunningham said. The request was denied, and Burns remanded him immediately upon rendering the sentence. Cunningham is currently incarcerated in the minimum security satellite camp at the United States Penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona. His projected release date is June 4, 2013.
|United States House of Representatives|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 44th congressional district
Alfred A. McCandless
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 51st congressional district
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 50th congressional district