Cunningham begs for mercy

Former California Republican Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who showed no compassion for the voters who trusted him in office when he took bribes to enrich his lifestyle, is now pleading for mercy before the judge who is set to sentence him today.

Cunningham, who pleaded guilty to corruption on a scale unparalleled in the history of Congress, now has the gall to ask a federal judge to spare him the maximum sentence.

Cunningham, who resigned last year in disgrace after pleading guilty, was scheduled to be sentenced Friday for accepting $2.4 million from defense contractors and others in exchange for steering government contracts their way.

"I am ready to pay my debt to society," Cunningham wrote to U.S. District Judge Larry Burns last month. "With God’s grace, I will accept your sentence without complaint."

Federal prosecutors have urged the judge to impose the maximum of 10 years in prison, the longest term ever for a congressman.

Defense attorneys have asked for a sentence of six years in prison for the 64-year-old former Navy "Top Gun" flight instructor and Vietnam War flying ace. Given Cunningham’s age and history of prostate cancer, a 10-year sentence "would likely be a death sentence," they said.

"His own misconduct has already left him penniless, homeless, estranged from those he loves and disgraced in the eyes of his countrymen," Cunningham’s lawyers wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

Prosecutors have also asked that Cunningham be ordered to pay nearly $1.6 million in taxes and forfeit his interest in a 7,628-square foot mansion he sold in December for $2.6 million.

The staggering details of Cunningham’s wrongdoing surpass anything in the history of Congress, Senate and House historians said. His bribes included a Rolls-Royce, a yacht, homes, travel, meals, Persian rugs valued at $40,000 each and various antique furnishings.

"In the sheer dollar amount, he is the most corrupt," said Deputy House Historian Fred W. Beuttler. "The scale of it is unprecedented."

Cunningham pleaded guilty Nov. 28 to tax evasion and a conspiracy involving four others. Defense contractor Mitchell Wade pleaded guilty last month to plying Cunningham with more than $1 million in gifts over four years. The remaining three alleged coconspirators have been identified as Brent Wilkes, a San Diego defense contractor; New York businessman Thomas Kontogiannis and John T. Michael, Kontogiannis’ nephew

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