Margaret Hunter, wife and former campaign manager of U.S. Rep Duncan Hunter, entered a guilty plea Thursday to charges she misused campaign funds.
Hunter pleaded guilty to the first of four elements in a federal grand jury indictment, conspiring to use campaign funds for non-campaign purposes related to a Italy trip.
Between 2010 and 2016, Margaret Hunter said she and her husband “knowingly and willingly” agreed to convert campaign funds to personal use, according to court documents.
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Attorneys Tom McNamara and Logan Smith stepped outside court and read a short statement from Margaret Hunter.
“Earlier this morning I entered a guilty plea before the U.S. District Court. In doing so, I have fully accepted responsibility for my conduct. I am deeply remorseful and I apologize. I am saddened for the hurt I have caused my family and others. I understand there will be more consequences stemming from my actions. But as demonstrated this morning, with the entry of the plea, I’ve taken the first step toward facing those consequences.”
She faces up to five years in jail with a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release.
The Hunters pleaded not guilty in August 2018 to charges that they used more than $250,000 to finance family trips to Italy and Hawaii, golf outings, school tuition, theater tickets and even fast food purchases.
The federal grand jury indictment depicts the couple as binge spenders, who over eight years pocketed a steady stream of contributions intended for campaign purposes, while their household budget was awash in red ink.
The plea agreement describes a couple that was struggling financially, overdrawing their joint bank account more than 1,100 times in a seven-year period. The Hunters were charged close to $38,000 in overdraft or insufficient bank fees, the document states.
Their credit cards often had balances as high as tens of thousands of dollars and the couple owed debts to their children's school among other creditors, the plea agreement said.
In Margaret Hunter's guilty plea, she stipulates that the couple was informed several times by her husband's campaign and office staff about questionable charges but that Rep. Duncan Hunter did not take action to change their spending.
April 2010: A campaign treasurer set a meeting with the congressman to discuss concerns about spending but Duncan Hunter did not attend the meeting.
December 2010: The treasurer threatened to quit so Duncan and Margaret Hunter decided she would stop using her campaign credit card for a period of time.
December 2012: The congressman was informed of the personal spending by his Washington-based Chief of Staff but took no steps to remove his wife’s access to campaign funds.
January 2016: Hunter’s chief of staff questioned some expenses. Duncan and Margaret Hunter insisted the charges were campaign-related and continued to use campaign funds for personal expenses, according to the plea agreement.
At the time of the indictment, Rep. Hunter suggested that his wife was to blame for misuse of campaign funds telling reporters in San Diego that Margaret Hunter was “in charge” of the finances and claiming, “I didn’t do it.”
Hunter also claimed that he gave his wife power of attorney when he deployed as a U.S. Marine to Iraq in 2003. Hunter said his wife has handled the couple's finances during his five terms in office.
But, the following week, he flipped the script and demanded federal prosecutors leave his wife alone.
“My message to the U.S. attorney here is let's get this in court,” Hunter told NBC 7 on Aug. 28. “Leave my wife out of it, we know they're not after her they're after me. They want to flip the seat, so let's go to court let's have a trial and everybody will see everything.”
The Hunters hired separate defense attorneys and have consistently arrived separately for pretrial hearings at the downtown federal courthouse.