Pros­e­cu­tors de­tail Rep. Hunter’s use of cam­paign funds for per­sonal ex­penses

Lodi News-Sentinel - - PAGE TWO - By Mor­gan Cook

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.

JOHN GIBBINS/SAN DIEGO UNION-TRI­BUNE FILE PHO­TO­GRAPH

Rep Dun­can Hunter Jr. (R-El Ca­jon) leaves Fed­eral Court in San Diego on July 1 af­ter a mo­tions hear­ing.

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