EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to include the details from the status conference held at 9 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 24.
REGION — A federal judge today gave attorneys for San Diego-area Rep. Duncan Hunter and his wife, Margaret, who were indicted on charges they spent more than $250,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses, two months to go through discovery in the case before any future hearing dates are set.
After listening to attorneys for the defendants and the government, U.S. District Judge Thomas Whelan ordered the parties back to court on Dec. 3.
Thomas McNamara, the attorney for Margaret Hunter, asked the judge to give the defense “several months” before scheduling another status conference, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily Allen said that was too long for what she characterized as a straightforward embezzlement case.
“This is a very simple case, when it comes down to it,” Allen told the judge, noting the government’s speedy trial rights.
McNamara told the judge it took the government 2 1/2 years to investigate the case.
“It’s not a simple case for us,” McNamara said.
With more than 200 overt acts alleged in a 60-count indictment, the defense request was not “unreasonable,” Whelan said.
After the hearing, protesters chanting “shame, shame, shame!” and “bye-bye Duncan” followed the congressman as he left the courthouse.
Hunter, R-Alpine, and his wife, sat a row apart and did not appear to say anything to each other during the hearing. Both are free on bail and have been ordered to appear at all hearings.
At the couple’s arraignment last month, Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip Halpern told a judge that the Hunters didn’t appear to have any assets and were “living paycheck to paycheck.”
The indictment alleges Hunter and his wife took money from campaign coffers as if they were personal bank accounts and falsified Federal Election Commission campaign finance reports to cover their tracks.
The indictment details scores of instances beginning in 2009 and continuing through 2016, in which the Hunters are accused of illegally using campaign money to pay for such things as family vacations to Italy, Hawaii and Boise, Idaho, school tuition, dental work, theater tickets and smaller purchases, including fast food, tequila shots, golf outings and video games.
Hunter, a 41-year-old former Marine, and his 43-year-old wife face charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and falsification of records.
Gregory Vega, the lead attorney for the lawmaker, contends the charges are politically motivated.
Duncan Hunter has said that his wife handled his finances when he was in the military and that continued when he got into Congress. He has said he hasn’t done anything wrong and is looking forward to clearing his name at trial.
The congressman is running for reelection in November. He is facing Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar in a district that has been a longtime Republican stronghold. Hunter’s father previously held the seat representing much of the East County, as well as Fallbrook, San Marcos, Valley Center and Escondido.