RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Randy Duke Cunningham, the disgraced former Congressman from San Diego, is serving an eight-year prison term for taking bribes from defense contractors. Now some of his furniture is getting new quarters as well.
Yesterday federal authorities auctioned tens of thousands of dollars worth of antiques and other furnishings, ill-gotten gains.
NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY reporting:
An hour before the auction began, bidders gathered in a cavernous warehouse checking out the merchandise spread out beneath a big American flag, and banners of the Customs Service and the IRS.
Some shoppers came for a look at history. Others were just looking for bargains. Larry O'Boyle didn't know until he arrived here that some of the seized merchandise for sale once belonged to a sitting congressman.
Mr. LARRY O'BOYLE (shopper): It seems like he really liked armoires. There's one, two, three, four, five, at least six, seven. I can't imagine what he did with seven armoires, unless he had a huge house.
HORSLEY: Antique armoires, oriental rugs, a leather sofa and a sleigh bed were all among the bribes Congressman Cunningham accepted from defense contractor Mitchell Wade. In exchange, Cunningham steered tens of millions of dollars in Pentagon business to Wade's company, NZM.
Little Tommy Seblon(ph), who works for a local radio show in San Diego, hoped to buy an antique lingerie cabinet to give away to the show's listeners. He noted that in effect the taxpayers of America have already paid for these items once.
Mr. TOMMY SEBLON (Radio Personality): What we're going to do is kind of be like Robin Hood. We're going to buy some stuff and then give it back to our listeners. Give it back to San Diego.
HORSLEY: Cunningham's ill-gotten furniture was not the only seized property up for sale. Auction house spokeswoman Brittany Sheehan says the government was also unloading pallets of confiscated liquor, cigarettes, gold necklaces, and two cartons of rubber wristbands with the motto Live Jewish.
Ms. BRITTANY SHEEHAN (Auction House Spokesperson): One of the unique things about Treasury Department auctions is we don't discriminate. Representative Cunningham's items are being sold right along that of people who are committing software fraud and credit card theft and identity theft and drug smugglers, and other money launderers.
Unidentified Man (Auctioneer): Lot number 63 is the Oriental rug. Take a look here, hey (unintelligible)...
HORSLEY: The bidding moved quickly. Little Tommy Seblon sat in the front row, flashing his red bidder's number. A few seats away was an actor, sent by Comedy Central's Colbert Report. The Colbert reporter stood out for a couple of reasons; he was wearing a tuxedo with a red, white, and blue bow tie, and he brought his own bidding paddle.
Unidentified Man (Auctioneer): Sir? Was that a ping-pong paddle? The ping-pong tournament's across the street. You're in the wrong spot. Hey (unintelligible).
HORSLEY: Overall, the auction of Cunningham's antiques brought in more than $94,000. That's about three thousand dollars more than prosecutors say Mitchell Wade paid for the items. And he bought retail.
Veteran auction-goer Rosemarie Mahler(ph) thinks in general bidders paid a premium for Cunningham's notoriety.
Ms. ROSEMARIE MAHLER (Auction-Goer): I think most people were buying because of his name. That's okay. We got a nice armoire and that was pretty reasonable too.
HORSLEY: Andy Robertson admits he was after more than just a rug when he shelled out 17 hundred dollars for one of Cunningham's Oriental carpets.
Mr. ANDY ROBERTSON (Auction-Goer): A little bit of history. That's what it's all about, having something to put on the floor and say here's some dirtball Congressman provided this for us.
HORSLEY: The lingerie cabinet that Little Tommy Seblon had his eye on went for $4,000.00, more than his radio bosses could afford. He did manage to snap up a couple of antique nightstands though. They'll be given away on the radio this morning as mementos of a sad chapter in political history, in which the public's trust and the power of a Congressman's office were also put on the block and sold.
Scott Horsely, NPR News, San Diego.
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