Congressman quits after he admits taking bribes

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The Independent US

A Republican congressman pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiracy and tax charges - tearfully resigning from office, after admitting he took $2.4m (£1.7m) in bribes to steer defence contracts to co-conspirators.

Randy "Duke" Cunningham, 63, entered pleas in US District Court to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud, and tax evasion for under-reporting his income in 2004. Mr Cunningham, of California, answered "Yes, Your Honor" when asked by US District Judge Larry Burns if he had accepted bribes from someone in exchange for his performance of official duties.

Later, at a news conference, he wiped away tears as he announced his resignation. "I can't undo what I have done but I can atone," he said.

"The truth is I broke the law, concealed my conduct, and disgraced my office."

"I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions and, most importantly, the trust of my friends and family."

Mr Cunningham, who had been in Congress since 1991, had already announced in July that he would not seek re-election next year. The former Vietnam War flying ace is known on Capitol Hill for his interest in defence issues and his occasional temperamental outbursts.

He drew little notice outside his San Diego-area district until the San Diego Union-Tribune reported last June that he'd sold his home to Mitchell Wade, who runs the defence contracting company, MZM Inc.

In addition to buying Mr Cunningham's home at an inflated price, Mr Wade let him live rent-free on his yacht, the Duke Stir, at the Capital Yacht Club. His firm also donated generously to Mr Cunningham's various charity campaigns.

Around the same time as the house sale, MZM Inc was winning valuable defence contracts from the government.

Mr Cunningham sat on the House Appropriations sub-committee that controls defence dollars. In 2004, the little-known company, MZM, based in Washington DC, tripled its revenue and nearly quadrupled its staff, according to information on the company web site before Mr Wade stepped down as president and the company was sold.

Prosecutors said Mr Cunningham had taken bribes that enabled him to buy a mansion, a suburban Washington house, a yacht and a Rolls-Royce.

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