Selling the Loot Raked in by a Pol Who Sold Out

An auction disposes of some of the booty collected by former U.S. Rep. "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA), who faces a prison stay after pleading guilty to taking bribes. It's a sad spectacle of greed on display.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

The tacky detritus of a life of crime was auctioned off this week. Former GOP Congressman Randy a.k.a. Duke Cunningham has begun the eight years-plus sentence he will serve in the federal pen for accepting bribes and evading taxes. He's being processed now in North Carolina. The next step is assignment to a prison. And this week, an auction near Los Angeles to unload a portion of his ill-gotten gains. Several Oriental rugs, some machine made, some stained. A number of antique storage pieces, armoires and nightstands, most of them dinged or cracked or otherwise flawed like the Dukester himself.

The sale was mostly the little stuff in the sleazy scheme of things, including presents Mr. Cunningham got from defense contractor Mitchell Wade of MZM. The former congressman also took a Rolls Royce, thanks to a defense contractor. Businessmen hoping for lucrative federal contracts paid Duke Cunningham inflated prices for his property and kept him in luxury. But the biggest items were not on the block at this auction. Mr. Cunningham's booty sat alongside cases of liquor and cigarettes and other spoils that federal agents seized from other criminals. In fact, those items attracted more attention including a bag of hundreds of Tahitian pearls, several Mercedes and an Alfa Romeo with just under 2,000 miles on it.

But make no mistake, tawdry souvenirs notwithstanding, Duke Cunningham was a big crook, one who moved millions of dollars of your tax money into the hands of people who paid him off. The conservative Republican pleaded guilty to bribery and tax evasion. Not that he had much choice. Investigators had found his price list on Mr. Cunningham's congressional stationary. They saw how many thousands of dollars military contractors might contribute to get a sweet deal from the Pentagon courtesy of the Duke.

He had accepted lots of money, more than two million dollars worth of cash and stuff, but Duke Cunningham was a very good investment. The contracts he arranged were worth many millions of dollars each.

Duke Cunningham's personal possessions sold this week in California for $94,000 and change. That's about 30 percent off the price he charged the business people who were buying his favors. If I know anything about auctions, and I do, Mr. Cunningham's loot went for more than it should have. Possibly buyers are willing to pay for the privilege of telling their friends that the rug you're walking on belonged to that congressman who's in the slammer.

Sadly, even though Congressman Cunningham is out of office and in the pen, there is no real resolution to this immorality tale. Ninety four thousand dollars is just a drop in the bucket, a small fraction of what the government hopes to recover from the Dukester. And the feds are just hoping for bribe money and back taxes to be returned to the Treasury. No way to recover the many millions in contracts awarded to the highest briber.

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