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Cunningham’s loot goes on the auction block

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March 22, 2006


Silver-plated candelabras. A cedar-lined lingerie cabinet. Persian rugs. An oak hutch carved with lions’ heads, tree limbs and acorns.

The spoils from former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham’s bribery scheme — a household of valuable antiques, rugs and home furnishings — will be auctioned off by the government Thursday to help cover the back taxes and restitution he owes.

The public was given a preview Tuesday of the loot, which was laid out in orderly rows in a warehouse near Los Angeles.

Cunningham, who was sentenced earlier this month to more than eight years in prison for taking $2.4 million in bribes, received the items from defense contractors in exchange for helping them win government contracts.

“Lavish,” said Jim Sudomir, a retiree from Fallbrook, summing up Cunningham’s lifestyle as he looked over the display. “If he was going to be a crook he should have been a smarter one. He thought he was above all that. … Look where he’s at now. He’s in jail.”

The inventory reveals that the contractors spared little expense to appease Cunningham’s collector’s tastes.

There is a leather sofa. A solid cherry sleigh bed. Nearly a dozen rugs. Marble-topped nightstands, armoires and sideboards, many featuring stained glass, brass fittings and intricate carvings.

“There’s a real mix of different styles _ Art Deco, French provincial, American pioneer,” said Britney Sheehan, who works for the company that will auction the goods.

Sheehan said she could not disclose how much the items are expected to fetch, since officials do not want to influence potential bidders. Some of the rugs have previously been valued at as much as $40,000.

Anyone but Cunningham can bid.

Cunningham’s prison term was described by attorneys for both sides as the longest prison sentence ever given to a member of Congress. The scale of the corruption scheme is unmatched in the annals of Congress.

The former congressman was ordered to pay $1.8 million in back taxes and forfeit an additional $1.85 million for cash bribes received, plus the proceeds from the sale of his mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, one of America’s wealthiest communities. The furnishings came from the home.

Cunningham sold a Rolls-Royce _ one of the bribes _ before he was indicted. He also transferred ownership of a yacht, another illegal gift from contractors.