Saturday, March 11, 2006

Cunningham Flies Con-Air

Randy "Duke" Cunningham began his new life last week. According to the San Diego Union Tribune, Cunningham is on a cross country journey that will eventually return him to a minimum security prison in California.

In the Vietnam war, Randy “Duke” Cunningham piloted Navy F-4 Phantom jet fighters to fight the enemy.

While a congressman, he lounged aboard private jets hired by contractors who bribed him for government contracts.

On Thursday, he flew in shackles alongside other criminals on “Con Air,” the nickname for the government airline used to transport prisoners around the country.

The flight from San Diego to Oklahoma City was his first – but surely not his last – aboard an airplane operated by the U.S. Marshals Service.

After a layover of a week or less, the former congressman will board another plane bound for North Carolina, where doctors at a federal prison hospital will evaluate his physical and mental health.

Cunningham, 64, was sentenced March 3 to a prison term of eight years, four months after pleading guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion. He admitted taking $2.4 million in bribes from contractors and another businessman.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns suggested that prison officials place Cunningham in a privately run prison in Taft, an hour southwest of Bakersfield, so he could be close to his family.

However, the decision is up to the Bureau of Prisons, which will consider Cunningham's crimes, his health and psychological issues as well as staffing levels and other issues in deciding where he will serve his time.

Cunningham is considered a good candidate for a minimum-security prison, but the one in Taft, run by a private company, doesn't have the same medical facilities as some other prisons.

That could be a major factor because Cunningham's defense lawyers raised his health in pleading for leniency. They noted that he has had prostate cancer and knee surgery and suffers from depression.

Cunningham just finished the first week of his 420 week sentence.