By Miriam Raftery
October 18, 2020 (San Diego) – Disgraced former Congressman Duncan D. Hunter will begin serving his 11-month prison sentence on January 4, 2021. His defense lawyer, Den Burstein, told Roll Call that Hunter will be sent to a minimum security camp at the Federal Correctional Institute La Tuna in El Paso county, Texas.
Hunter, a former Marine Corps combat veteran, resigned from Congress last January after pleading guilty to spending campaign donations on a lavish personal lifestyle. He and his wife were accused of diverting a quarter million dollars in donor funds. Margaret Hunter also pled guilty and was sentenced to eight months of home confinement after cooperating with prosecutors.
La Tuna has 737 inmates, but just 151 at the camp where Hunter will serve time, according to the Bureau of Prisons.
According to federal records, La Tuna has been generally safe compared to federal prisons closer to home with records of violence, an attorney who authored the Federal Prison Guidebook told Rollcall.
However, La Tuna has had 10 cases of coronavirus to date, including two inmates and 8 staff members who tested positive, according to a Bureau of Prisons report at https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/. No deaths from COVID-19 have occurred at La Tuna. Several inmates filed a lawsuit in May claiming that adequate testing and protections from COVID were not being provided at La Tuna.
All inmates are assigned jobs, are awakened at 6 a.m., can wear only approved white or grey clothing, and must remain alcohol and drug free, per the prison handbook. According to PrisonPro.com, Inmates at the facility also have access to amenities including a library, TV, sports and games, fitness programs, music, movies, arts and crafts such as knitting and woodworking, as well as health and counseling services.
Famous past inmates at La Tuna have included George Jung, a member of the Medellin drug cartel whose life story was featured in the Johnny Depp film “Blow” in 2001.
According to prosecutors, Hunter’s lavish expenditures included overnight trips with mistresses, family vacations to Europe and Hawaii, jewelry, oral surgery bills and tuition at his children’s schools. Hunter's drinking and partying became legendary in the nation's capitol; he was once named the biggest "party animal" in Congress by Washingtonian magazine. Although he initially claimed he was innocent, he eventually pleaded guilty, stating that he did so to avoid putting his family through the ordeal of a trial.
Hunter’s decision to postpone resignation until January ran out the clock for a special election and resulted in the seat being left vacant for nearly a year by the time a new Congressman is seated in January 2020. Ammar Campa-Najjar and Darrell Issa won the Democratic and Republican primary elections and are now in the November 3rd run-off election to be the next representative in the 50th Congressional district, which encompasses most of East County as well as other areas in San Diego County.
Duncan D. Hunter is not the first San Diego Congressman to do time in federal prisoner. Former Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery and tax evasion. He was released after seven years. A San Diego Union-Tribune investigation revealed that Cunningham, like Hunter, used his position to fund a lavish lifestyle including a mansion, yachts and hunting trips with ill-gotten gain.
Cunningham praised former Congressman Duncan Hunter, father of the disgraced Congressman, as his mentor. The senior Duncan Hunter also faced ethical issues.
Cunningham, a Republican and former military flying ace, reportedly moved to Arkansas after his release from prison, KPBS reported. He has authored several books, and told KPBS shortly after his release that he planned to write another book on prison reforms.