SAN DIEGO – Congressman Duncan Hunter Jr. and his wife Margaret pleaded not guilty to charges of having used about $250,000 of campaign funds for their personal expenses, including family vacations and even paying for private college for their children.
The Republican lawmaker, who is seeking re-election in November, and his wife, who was in charge of his campaign expenditures, are facing 60 criminal counts among which are conspiracy, fraud, falsification of documents and unauthorized use of contributions.
During a brief court hearing in San Diego, Judge William Gallo set bail at $15,000 for Hunter and $10,000 for his wife and prohibited both from leaving the country.
Prosecutor Phillip Halpern raised no opposition to allowing the couple to remain free on bond, noting that there was no indication that they intended to flee the US.
Hunter and his wife entered and left federal court separately without giving statements to the press, but they were confronted by a group of demonstrators, who demanded that the congressman resign, shouting “Shame,” “Lock them up” and “Nobody’s above the law.”
Although the couple made no public remarks on Thursday, on Wednesday Hunter released a statement in which he called the accusations against them a “witch hunt” brought for “political” reasons and said that he will continue to represent California’s District 50, which he has done for almost a decade.
Among the personal expenses the couple are alleged to have made with campaign contributions are trips to Italy and Hawaii, as well as other international flights for almost a dozen relatives.
Between 2009 and 2016, the couple also spent “tens of thousands” of dollars on purchases including fast food, movie tickets, videogames, luxury meals, groceries, coffee and even products for the home, according to the prosecution.
Hunter, 41, was one of the first lawmakers to come out in support of now-President Donald Trump after he declared his presidential candidacy.
The Republican earlier this year won his party’s primary to run for re-election, despite reports that he had made unauthorized use of campaign funds, and in November he will face off against Democrat Ammar Campa-Najar, who is of Mexican and Palestinian heritage.