A sneak peak at a Congressman’s bribes

POWAY, Calif. — Federal agents gave reporters a peek Tuesday at about 40 pieces of antique furniture accepted by a former congressman as part of $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors seeking government business.

The furniture from former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham’s San Diego-area mansion took up a small corner of a dimly lit warehouse.

The furnishings included French dressers with burled walnut and marble, a sleigh-style bed and a hand-woven Persian carpet that stretched more than 30 feet and had a $5,500 price tag still attached.

Cunningham agreed to forfeit the furnishings, along with the mansion itself and $1.8 million in cash, when he pleaded guilty Nov. 28 to charges of conspiracy and income tax evasion. He could receive as much as 10 years in prison when he is sentenced in February.

The former Vietnam fighter pilot ace resigned in disgrace Tuesday. His letter of resignation was read on the House floor.

Cunningham, 63, said he brought shame to both his office and the Republican party and apologized to congressional colleagues.

“Not only have I compromised the trust of my constituents, I have misled my family, friends, colleagues, staff and even myself,” he wrote.

In the warehouse in the San Diego suburb of Poway, camera shutters clicked as appraiser Dave McPheeters peered into dresser drawers, jotted notes on a yellow legal pad and measured the size of Cunningham’s carpets.

“Very nice hand-selected pieces,” McPheeters remarked. “The condition is good.”

Much of it was bought for Cunningham by defense contractor Mitchell Wade. According to Cunningham’s plea agreement, Wade spent more than $90,000 to satisfy the former “Top Gun” flight instructor’s taste in antique armoires, nightstands, washstands, silver-plated candelabras, and custom oak and leaded glass doors.

Cunningham also sold his home in the seaside community of Del Mar to Wade in 2003 for a price inflated by about $700,000. He used the proceeds to move into a $2.55 million, seven-bath mansion in the exclusive San Diego County community of Rancho Santa Fe.

The furnishings will be sold at an auction with the proceeds helping support future law enforcement operations, said Tami L. Stine, a spokeswoman for the Internal Revenue Service.

© 2005 The Associated Press