FBI is investigating San Diego-area Rep. Duncan Hunter for possible campaign finance violations

U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) is under criminal investigation by the Department of Justice for possibly misspending tens of thousands in campaign funds.

The House Ethics Committee disclosed the investigation Thursday in a news release explaining why it was not pursuing its own investigation of the San Diego-area congressman.

According to an ethics report released along with the disclosure, Hunter “may have converted tens of thousands of dollars of campaign funds from his congressional campaign committee to personal use to pay for family travel, flights, utilities, healthcare, school uniforms and tuition, jewelry, groceries and other goods, services, and expenses.”

Federal election officials and the San Diego Union-Tribune have repeatedly raised questions over the last year about unusual spending by Hunter’s campaign, including flying the family rabbit on a plane and payments to nail salons, his children’s private school and a Phoenix resort, among others.

The spending issues reach back over a year to when the Federal Election Commission first questioned Hunter for using campaign funds to pay for video games on 68 occasions — something the congressman attributed to his son using the wrong credit card.

Since then, Hunter has reimbursed his campaign some $62,000 in payments for things like oral surgery, a family trip to Italy and Disneyland gift shop purchases, and has said he's doing a review of all his campaign’s spending.

The ethics committee on Thursday released a single page of the independent Office of Congressional Ethics’ report, which detailed the allegations that Hunter used campaign money for personal benefit. The office sent the allegations to the House Ethics Committee for further investigation last August, saying his actions may have violated House rules and federal law.

Shortly after Hunter was reelected with 63.5% of the vote in November, election officials pointed out thousands of dollars in improper payments by his campaign, including payments to utility companies, a dentist, a nail salon, grocery stores and clothing retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch — as well as 32 payments to airlines, a hotel in Italy and the Arizona Grand Resort.

Hunter’s staff also told the Riverside Press-Enterprise in January that he used campaign funds to pay the $600 cost of flying a family rabbit.

The Justice Department does not typically confirm whether it is conducting an investigation, but a federal law enforcement official familiar with the investigation told The Times that the FBI is investigating Hunter for campaign finance violations. Hunter’s lawyers acknowledged the investigation as well.

“Congressman Hunter intends to cooperate fully with the government on this investigation, and maintains that to the extent any mistakes were made they were strictly inadvertent and unintentional,” Hunter’s attorneys, Elliot S. Berke and Gregory A. Vega, said in a statement.

Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the group that filed the original ethics complaint against Hunter, said in a statement that “Hunter has shown a blatant disregard for the rules” and that his group will closely follow the investigation.

The FBI has looked at the financial dealings of more than a half dozen House members in the last decade.

Bookbinder called Hunter’s situation “the most egregious congressional spending scandal” since former Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) was indicted last fall for theft of government funds, fraud, making false statements and filing false tax returns, charges that stemmed from using House and campaign funds to support a lavish lifestyle. He has pleaded not guilty.

Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) was sentenced to 30 months in prison in 2013 for spending $750,000 from his campaign on personal items.

Times staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this report.

sarah.wire@latimes.com

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Read more about the 55 members of California's delegation at latimes.com/politics

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UPDATES:

3:40 p.m.: This story was updated with FBI confirmation of the investigation and details about similar cases.

This story was originally published at 2:20 p.m.

This article initially reported the amount Rep. Duncan Hunter is under suspicion of misspending as hundreds of thousands. It is tens of thousands.
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