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Rep. Duncan Hunter to abandon 'not guilty' plea in campaign finance scandal

Morgan Cook and Jeff McDonald, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in News & Features

SAN DIEGO -- After years of denials and claims he was the target a political witch hunt, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., is scheduled to appear in federal court Tuesday morning to change his plea of not guilty to charges stemming from a sweeping campaign finance investigation.

The announcement was posted on the U.S. District Court docket Monday morning without any supplemental documentation.

"Notice of change of hearing as to defendant Duncan D. Hunter," the docket entry states. "Change of Plea Hearing set for 12/3/2019 10:00 AM in Courtroom 3C before Judge Thomas J. Whelan."

The reversal comes nearly six months after Hunter's wife and former campaign treasurer, Margaret Hunter, admitted to her role in a widespread scheme that saw the couple allegedly spend more than $200,000 in campaign donations on family expenses like vacations, gas, groceries, school lunches and oral surgery. Such spending is prohibited to prevent undue influence by contributors.

It was not immediately clear what specific crime Hunter will admit when he appears in San Diego federal court Tuesday, or what agreement his lawyers hatched with prosecutors relating to a possible prison sentence.

The trial, which already was pushed back twice as defense attorneys challenged various claims in the federal indictment, was scheduled to begin Jan. 22.

 

Prosecutors, along with the defendant, were due in court Tuesday morning to debate Hunter's latest motions over whether defense attorney Paul Pfingst has a conflict of interest defending his client because Pfingst's law firm represented witnesses in the case. The change of plea hearing will apparently take place instead.

The change of plea, if entered and accepted by the judge, also would close the complicated appeal that Hunter filed earlier this year. In an unusual move, the East County congressman appealed his prosecution in July to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal even before his trial opened.

Hunter, who will turn 43 on Saturday, and his wife were charged in August 2018 with 60 criminal counts related to their use of Hunter's campaign contributions and each faced decades in prison if convicted on all charges.

Both pleaded not guilty to the charges when they were arraigned.

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