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Former Rep. 'Duke' Cunningham Freed After Bribery Sentence

Former California Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham is a free man today, after spending more than seven years in prison on bribery and other charges. A distinguished Vietnam War veteran and former Navy pilot, Cunningham's 15-year career in Congress ended abruptly when he admitting to taking $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors and evading taxes.

"Spokesman Chris Burke says the 71-year-old was released from home confinement Tuesday," reports ABC 10News of San Diego. "He declined to say where or elaborate on the circumstances, citing privacy and safety concerns."

The bribery scheme that Cunningham and two others were convicted for was an elaborate one, famously including a yacht named the Duke-Stir. It resulted in Cunningham being sentenced to one of the longest prison terms ever for a former member of Congress.

Here's how NPR's Peter Overby described the various payouts on the day Cunningham pleaded guilty, speaking with Talk of the Nation host Neal Conan:

"OVERBY: Well, Neal, he pleaded guilty to conspiring to take bribes totaling $2.4 million; also pleaded guilty to tax evasion. The conspiracy-to-bribe count has a lot of elements in it. There are 52 items in the list in the plea agreement. The biggest one involves a house deal where Cunningham sold his house to a defense contractor--his house in San Diego. Cunningham took the proceeds and bought a $2.5 million mansion. The defense contractor sold the old house, took a $700,000 loss in...

"CONAN: In the market in San Diego?

"OVERBY: That's right. Yes, $700,000 loss in San Diego. So--and then it goes on to a lot of other things: The defense contractor supplied a boat called the Duke-Stir for Cunningham to live on in Washington on the Anacostia River, supplied $13,000 for him to buy a Rolls-Royce, paid a considerable amount of money to have work done on the Rolls, paid money for Cunningham's daughter's graduation party--there's just a whole raft of things--antiques. It goes on."

A full timeline of those bribes is available at the U-T San Diego site, which reports that Cunningham was freed from a halfway house in New Orleans today, after spending most of his sentence at a minimum security prison in Arizona.

After Cunningham's guilty plea, two men working in the defense industry were convicted for giving him cash and gifts. In exchange, Brent Wilkes received "nearly $90 million in defense work," the AP says, and Mitchell Wade admitted to giving Cunningham the yacht and other perks, "for about $150 million in contracts." Wade has completed his sentence; Wilkes is currently free while appealing a guilty verdict.

Cunningham's prison sentence was reduced by about a year for good behavior, the AP reports. He will be on probation for three years. Cunningham has been reported as saying he now plans to live in Florida or Arkansas.

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