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By Ken Stone, Times of San Diego, a member of the San Diego News Association

Photo:  former Rep. Duncan D. Hunter and his wife, Margaret, are seen in La Mesa at 2014 Polonia United event for Polish-Americans in the San Diego region. Photo by Miriam Raftery

August 18, 2020 (San Diego) - 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 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 the U-T, quoting her lawyers’ sentencing memo. “She is deeply sorry and is prepared to accept whatever punishment the Court deems appropriate.”

The U-T reported that Margaret Hunter plans to enroll in college, earn a degree and rebuild her life.

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.

“It is undeniable that that the individual most responsible for the instant offense is codefendant Duncan Hunter,” said the government memo. “Although Margaret Hunter admittedly played an active and very substantial role in the theft of campaign funds, she did so only with the concurrence and support of the then-Congressman.

“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.”

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