SignOnSanDiego.com > News > Politics -- Cunningham 'demanded and received' bribe, prosecutors say

By Onell R. Soto

4:40 p.m. August 25, 2005

SAN DIEGO – U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham "demanded and received" a bribe from a Pentagon contractor who paid "an amount far greater" than market value for the congressman's Del Mar Heights home in 2003, according to prosecutors.
The allegations contained in papers filed Thursday in San Diego federal court are the first in which the U.S. Attorney's Office has publicly accused Cunningham of committing a crime.

Cunningham's lawyers, in a statement, denied any wrongdoing by the Republican congressman.

"Duke Cunningham strongly denies these allegations and we will contest them in court as soon as the judge permits us to do so," they said.

The legal papers were filed to support a lawsuit in which prosecutors are attempting to seize Cunningham's Rancho Santa Fe house because they say it was obtained with tainted money – profits from the sale of the Del Mar house.

Thursday's filing also outlines at least some of the criminal allegations that apparently are the focus of a grand jury that has been hearing testimony from witnesses in the case for several months.

Cunningham and his wife sold their Del Mar house to a company owned by Mitchell Wade, the president and owner of Pentagon contractor MZM Inc., on Nov. 20, 2003, for $1.675 million, "an amount far greater than its true fair market value," a prosecutor said in the papers.

"Cunningham demanded and received this money in return for being influenced in the performance of his official acts as a public official," prosecutor Jason Forge said in the papers.

Government lawyers originally filed the suit seeking to seize Cunningham's house in secret, but put a notice with county property records advising potential buyers of the suit.

As a result, it's nearly impossible for Cunningham to sell the house.

Cunningham's lawyers responded by asking a federal judge to remove the notice so the house could be sold. They also asked the judge to force government officials to make the lawsuit public.

With its actions Thursday, prosecutors are saying those arguments are moot.

The judge is scheduled to hear arguments Sept. 9.