After a family vacation in Italy, U.S. congressman's wife admits to misusing campaign funds

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Reuters) - The wife of a U.S. representative pleaded guilty on Thursday to federal charges alleging misuse of $250,000 in campaign funds and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors who are also bringing charges against her husband.

The move by Margaret Hunter, wife of Republican U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter, came after she and her husband entered not guilty pleas in August 2018 that they spent campaign funds on items ranging from a holiday in Italy to Minnie Mouse ear headbands at Disneyland.

"I have accepted full responsibility for my conduct. I am deeply remorseful, and I apologize. I am saddened for the hurt I have caused my family and others," Margaret Hunter's attorneys Tom McNamara and Logan Smith said in a statement on her behalf.

The plea agreement recommends a five-year prison sentence, five years probation and a fine of up to $250,000, according to U.S. Attorney's office. No sentencing date has been set.

Duncan Hunter said in a statement on Thursday that the Department of Justice "went after her to get to me for political reasons."

"As Margaret’s case concludes, she should be left alone. I am the Congressman, this is my campaign and any further attention on this issue should be directed solely to me," he said.

A San Diego grand jury indicted the Hunters for allegedly using campaign accounts to pay for their children's private school tuition, lavish travel including restaurant meals that frequently cost hundreds of dollars.

The indictment alleges the Hunters lied about how the money was spent, with the couple saying it went to charity or campaign events when prosecutors said it was really used for groceries, restaurant meals and clothing.

Duncan Hunter, whose father, Duncan Hunter Sr., also served in Congress, represents conservative portions of San Diego and Riverside counties in a seat that is generally considered safe for Republicans.

Margaret Hunter pledged to provide testimony to a grand jury investigating the campaign violations and "and tell everything she knows", according to the plea agreement filed in court.

Hunter, a supporter of President Donald Trump, easily won re-election last November despite being indicted for corruption. He is scheduled to go on trial in September.

Hunter appeared to blame his wife for the violations in an interview with Fox News last year, saying he gave Margaret power of attorney when he was deployed to Iraq as a marine in 2003, and that she oversaw his campaign finances.

(Reporting by Marty Graham in San Diego, California; Writing by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Lisa Shumaker)