Prosecutors detail Rep. Hunter’s use of campaign funds for personal expenses
SAN DIEGO — A new court filing by prosecutors in the case against Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-El Cajon, says the lawmaker was warned as early as 2010 that he and his wife were breaking the law by improperly spending campaign funds.
The filing says they bought a camera to take family vacation pictures and tried listing the expenditure as ink, paper and software for the office. They also spent campaign money on a trip to his daughter’s Irish dance competition in Phoenix because they couldn’t afford it, the filing states.
At one point, the filing said, a former treasurer threatened to quit if Hunter didn’t take the campaign credit card away from his wife.
The allegations are part of arguments prosecutors filed Monday with the U.S. District Court, asking the court to disqualify an attorney slated to join Hunter’s defense team before the lawmaker’s criminal trial in January.
Hunter notified the court last month that San Diego-based attorney Paul J. Pfingst would represent him in the criminal proceedings. Pfingst told The San Diego Union-Tribune he expected prosecutors to allege a conflict of interest because another attorney in Pfingst’s firm, John Rice, has represented witnesses in the criminal investigation who have appeared before the grand jury in the case.
The prosecutors’ motion said Pfingst’s firm, Higgs Fletcher & Mack, “is faced with an actual and unwaivable conflict of interest because it has represented since early 2017 — and continues to represent — multiple witnesses in this action, who have already provided adverse testimony leading to Hunter’s indictment and are expected to provide equally damaging adverse testimony at trial.”
Reached by phone Monday, Pfingst said in response to the filing, “I think Congressman Hunter should be allowed to pick his lawyer, rather than the prosecution picking his lawyer.
“I don’t know why they are trying so hard to keep me off the case,” Pfingst continued. “I didn’t know I was so intimidating.”
Hunter is scheduled to begin trial Jan. 22 on a 60-count indictment accusing him and his wife and former campaign manager, Margaret Hunter, of fraud, conspiracy and other crimes stemming from their alleged use of more than $250,000 in campaign money to pay for personal expenses such as video games, dental work, their children’s private school tuition, a family vacation to Italy and more.
Both pleaded not guilty when they were arraigned in August 2018. Margaret Hunter reached a deal with prosecutors and changed her plea in June to guilty to one count of conspiracy. She agreed to cooperate with the prosecution and testify against her husband.
Congressman Hunter continues to fight the charges as he runs for reelection, starting with a March 3 primary election.
According to the motion prosecutors filed Monday, Rice has represented since March 2017 three government witnesses: Bruce Young, Sheila Hardison and Joseph Browning.
All three had worked for the campaigns or the congressional office of Hunter’s father, former Rep. Duncan L. Hunter, before joining the younger Hunter’s campaign, and all three were close friends with the Hunter family, prosecutors wrote.
Prosecutors argued that “each of the witnesses represented by Higgs describe facts that support the charges alleged in the indictment, and directly contradict Hunter’s protestations of innocence.”
For example, the government argued, Young testified before the grand jury that when he worked as Hunter’s campaign treasurer from 2007 until Feb. 1, 2013, he reported “various expenditures” on Federal Election Commission reports as legitimate campaign expenses, “when in fact those representations were false. Young relied on false information provided by both Margaret and Duncan Hunter to make these incorrect disclosures,” the filing said.
Rep Duncan Hunter Jr. (R-El Cajon) leaves Federal Court in San Diego on July 1 after a motions hearing.