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Last Updated: Saturday, 4 March 2006, 01:31 GMT
Congressman jailed over bribery
Randy "Duke" Cunningham
Randy Cunningham said he had lost 90lb since pleading guilty
A Republican congressman in the United States has been sentenced to eight years in jail for taking $2.4m (1.4m) in bribes from a defence contractor.

Randy "Duke" Cunningham - a 64-year-old decorated Vietnam War pilot - pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion.

Cunningham accepted cash and gifts including a Rolls-Royce, a yacht and $40,000 Persian rugs in return for doing favours and awarding contracts.

The case is one of several corruption scandals involving senior Republicans.

Lobbyist Jack Abramoff says he will name numerous congressmen who accepted millions of dollars worth of bribes from him - mostly Republicans, but also Democrats.

I have ripped my life to shreds due to my actions
Randy Cunningham

Meanwhile the former leader of Republicans in the House of Representatives, Tom DeLay, faces trial in Texas on money laundering charges.

Correspondents say the scandals threaten to influence the course of mid-term elections in November.

Plea for mother

Cunningham's punishment - eight years and four months in jail - is one of the longest sentences ever meted out to a congressman.

He also was ordered to pay $1.8m to cover unpaid taxes.

In an unsteady voice he told the judge in the San Diego courtroom: "Your honour I have ripped my life to shreds due to my actions, my actions that I did to myself.

"I made a very wrong turn. I rationalised decisions I knew were wrong. I did that, sir," he said.

He pleaded to see his 91-year-old mother one last time before going to prison, but was refused permission.

'Most corrupt'

District Judge Larry Burns asked why Cunningham took such a course.

"You weren't wet. You weren't cold. You weren't hungry and yet you did these things," he said.

"I think what you've done is you've undermined the opportunity that honest politicians have to do a good job."

Washington historian Fred W Beuttler told the Associated Press that Cunningham's corruption was the worst in the history of Congress.

"In the sheer dollar amount, he is the most corrupt," he said.

Prosecutor Phil Halpern said Cunningham helped award contracts that squandered millions of dollars on "systems the military didn't ask for, didn't need and frequently didn't use".

Cunningham was taken into custody much thinner than when he pleaded guilty in November. He said he had lost 90 pounds (40kg) since June.


SEE ALSO:
US lawmaker quits in bribery row
28 Nov 05 |  Americas
Lobbyist case threatens Congress
04 Jan 06 |  Americas
DeLay hands himself in to court
20 Oct 05 |  Americas



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