The Drug Enforcement Administration arrested the son of Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-San Diego) earlier this month for allegedly flying an airplane loaded with more than 400 pounds of marijuana into a small airport near Boston.
Todd R. Cunningham, 27, a San Diego bartender, pleaded not guilty to marijuana trafficking and conspiracy to violate drug laws. Authorities said that on Jan. 17, they saw kilogram-size bricks of marijuana unloaded from a twin-engine plane at Lawrence Municipal Airport in North Andover, Mass.
Cunningham was released Wednesday after posting $25,000 cash bail.
His father, a four-term congressman, said he learned of the arrest Friday night, a week after it occurred, when informed by a reporter.
“As a parent, this is the most anguishing thing that can happen to you,” Cunningham said in a statement. “We love him. If the charges are true, we are disappointed, and he must face his responsibilities.”
Cunningham, a decorated combat pilot and flight instructor, is known in the House for his fiery rhetoric and strong stands on illegal immigration and drug trafficking. He has knocked President Clinton for a “cavalier attitude” toward the problem.
“What we need from our policy leaders and law enforcement is a real war on drugs,” Cunningham said in a newspaper commentary last year. “We must get tough on drug dealers, fully fund the war on drugs, and stop drugs at the border.”
He noted that Congress passed a law restricting federal judges from ordering the early release of drug traffickers. “Those who would peddle destruction on our children must pay dearly,” he said.
A DEA agent told the Eagle Tribune newspaper in North Andover that Todd Cunningham is suspected of bringing the shipment from California or another Western state to sell to the two other arrested suspects, Christopher M. Guivas, 21, and Mark S. Ingalls, 23, both of Massachusetts. Cunningham denied that he flew the plane, police said.
Authorities said they received a tip that a marijuana shipment was arriving. DEA agents, state police and officers from the North Andover Police Department were staking out the landing strip when a small plane arrived about 6:45 p.m.
Two men left the craft and later returned with a third man and a van, officials said. Police said they saw the suspects unload boxes into the van. Officers pulled the vehicle over on Interstate 495 and discovered the marijuana, which was wrapped in plastic and boxed.
Randy Cunningham adopted Todd, who is his first wife’s child. The couple divorced in 1973, and Todd, 4 at the time, went to live with his mother in St. Louis.
In 1986, at age 17, he moved back to San Diego to live with Randy Cunningham, his second wife and their two daughters. At that time, the youth was admitted to a drug rehabilitation center for about 11 months. The congressman’s spokeswoman, Lori Gulakowski, said Todd Cunningham had not had any previous run-ins with the law.
Rep. Cunningham is a former Vietnam War combat pilot who won a Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, 15 Air Medals and the Purple Heart for his service. Before being elected to the House in 1990, he also worked as a “Top Gun” flight instructor at the Miramar Naval Air Station.
Times staff writer Tony Perry in San Diego contributed to this report.