SAN DIEGO - Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham pleaded guilty Monday to conspiracy and tax charges and tearfully resigned from office, admitting he took $2.4 million in bribes to steer defense contracts to conspirators.
Cunningham, 63, entered pleas in U.S. District Court to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud, and tax evasion for underreporting his income in 2004.
Cunningham answered "yes, Your Honor" when asked by U.S. District Judge Larry Burns if he had accepted bribes from someone in exchange for his performance of official duties.
Later, at a news conference, he wiped away tears as he announced his resignation.
"I can't undo what I have done but I can atone," he said.
Cunningham, an eight-term Republican congressman, had already announced in July that he would not seek re-election next year.
House Ethics rules say that any lawmaker convicted of a felony no longer should vote or participate in committee work. Under Republican caucus rules, Cunningham also would have lost his chairmanship of the House Intelligence subcommittee on terrorism and human intelligence.
The former Vietnam War flying ace was known on Capitol Hill for his interest in defense issues and his occasional temperamental outbursts.
After the hearing, Cunningham was taken away for fingerprinting and released on his own recognizance until a Feb. 27 sentencing hearing. He could receive up to 10 years in prison.
He also agreed to forfeit to the government his Rancho Santa Fe home, more than $1.8 million in cash and antiques and rugs.
In a statement, prosecutors said Cunningham admitted to receiving at least $2.4 million in bribes paid to him by several conspirators through a variety of methods, including checks totaling over $1 million, cash, rugs, antiques, furniture, yacht club fees and vacations.
"He did the worst thing an elected official can do - he enriched himself through his position and violated the trust of those who put him there," U.S. Attorney Carol Lam said. The statement did not identify the conspirators.
The case began when authorities started investigating whether Cunningham and his wife, Nancy, used the proceeds from the $1,675,000 sale to defense contractor Mitchell Wade to buy the $2.55 million mansion in Rancho Santa Fe. Wade put the Del Mar house back on the market and sold it after nearly a year for $975,000 - a loss of $700,000.
He drew little notice outside his San Diego-area district before the San Diego Union-Tribune reported last June that he'd sold the home to Wade.
Cunningham's pleas came amid a series of GOP scandals. Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas had to step down as majority leader after he was indicted in a campaign finance case; a stock sale by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is being looked at by regulators; and Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff was indicted in the CIA leak case.