Some people have asked me how I can say that Randy “Duke” Cunningham is the most corrupt congressman in U.S. history. I put the question to official historians in both the House and the Senate. They told me they knew of no other, but left the research to me. Here’s what I found out:
In the wake of the Abscam scandal, the Senate created a select committee to study undercover activities of the Department of Justice. Buried in the report was a compendium of criminal prosecutions of members of Congress dating back to 1789.
Member of Congress accused of a crime that involved enriching themselves while in office:
Rep. Robert Smalls, R-S.C., was arrested and subsequently indicted for accepting a bribe in 1872 while a state senator. Sentenced to five years in prison. Historians say Small was a victim of the racial politics of the time. (Note: This is but one interesting chapter in his life. Smalls was born a slave and escaped by stealing a Confederate steamship and sailing it into Union territory.)
Sen. Charles H. Dietrich, R-Neb., indicted for accepting bribes for a government appointment, among other deeds. Accused of procuring a postmaster’s position for as much as $1,300. Directed verdict of not guilty entered at trial because Dietrich was not a member of Congress when acts were committed. Prosecutors dropped remaining counts.
Sen. John H. Mitchell, R-Ore., indicted for conspiracy and bribery. Received $2,000 in 1902 to influence issuance of land patents based on false applications. Convicted, but died in 1905 while case was still on appeal.
Rep. John W. Langley, R-Ky., indicted for conspiracy to violate the National Prohibition Act by allegedly receiving loans for using his influence to obtain permits for a whiskey selling scheme. Sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.
Rep. Harry E. Rowbottom, R-Ind., indicted and convicted for accepting bribes from Post Office applicants. Took $750 from one applicant and $800 from another. Sentenced to a year in prison and fined $2,000.
Rep. George Foulkes, D-Mich., indicted and convicted of conspiracy to assess political contributions from postmasters. Sentenced to 18 months and fined $1,000.
Rep. John H. Hoeppel, D-Calif., indicted (along with his son, Charles) and convicted for conspiracy to solicit payment for an appointment to West Point. Charles had promised that his father could secure an appointment for $1,000.
Rep. B. Frank Whelchel, D-Ga., indicted for and acquitted of allegedly accepting money to obtain appointive offices for constituents.
Rep. (and Boston Mayor) James M. Curley, D-Mass., (“The Rascal King”) indicted for fraudulently procuring war work and housing construction contracts for a business with which he was connected. Sentenced to 6 to 8 months in prison and fined $1,000. Sentence commuted by President Truman.
Rep. Andrew J. May, D-Ky., indicted on four counts of conspiracy to defraud the government. Allegedly received $60,000 for using his influence with the War Department to promote the interests of a munitions company. Served nine months in prison during 1950 and received a full pardon from President Truman in 1952.
Rep. John Parnell Thomas, R-N.J., indicted for conspiracy to defraud the government. Thomas, chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, padded his congressional payroll and took kickbacks from his staff. Sentenced to 6 to 18 months in prison and fined $10,000.
Rep. Walter Brehm, R-Ohio, indicted for accepting political contributions from government employees. The indictment charged that Brehm accepted cash contributions from two clerks in his office. He was found guilty of getting $1,000 from Clerk Emma Craven, but not guilty of taking money from a 74-year-old clerk in his Washington office. Received a 15 month suspended sentence and a $5,000 fine.
Rep. Ernest Bramblett, R-Calif., indicted on 18 counts of making false statements. Bramblett put the wife of the House Clerk on his congressional office payroll for 16 months. Though she did not work for Bramblett, she kicked back to her “employer” at the rate of $3,300 a year. Suspended sentence of 4 to 12 months and a $5,000 fine.
Rep. William J. Green D-Pa., indicted for conspiracy to defraud the government by allegedly accepting money and business from contracts in return for influencing decisions on construction of an Army Signal Corps depot in Pennsylvania. Acquitted.
Rep. Thomas J. Lane, D-Mass., indicted for evading $38,542 in taxes on his congressional income. Sentenced to four months in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Rep. Thomas F. Johnson, D-Md., indicted on eight counts of conspiracy and conflict of interest. The indictment alleged that Johnson had received more than $20,000 for giving a speech in the House favorable to savings and loan institutions. Also accused of interceding with the U.S. Attorney General to obtain a dismissal of an indictment against a Maryland savings and loan association. Convicted of conflict interest and sentenced to six months in prison.
Rep. Frank W. Boykin, D-Ala., indicted for conflict of interest and conspiracy to defraud the government. Tried to get the Department of Justice to dismiss indictments against a Maryland savings and loan association. Placed on six months’ probation and fined $40,000. Pardoned by LBJ.
Rep. John Dowdy, D-Tex., indicted on charges of conflict of interest, conspiracy, perjury, and interstate travel to facilitate bribery. Dowdy was accused of taking $25,000 from a Maryland home improvement firm accused of defrauding its customers in return for intervening in an investigation of the firm by the Justice Department. Convicted on all counts and sentenced to 18 months. On appeal, conviction reversed on conspiracy, bribery, and two perjury counts but affirmed on three other perjury counts.
Rep. Cornelius Gallagher, D-N.J., indicted for federal income tax evasion, perjury and conspiracy. Gallagher evaded over $100,000 in income tax and concealed kickbacks. Pleaded guilty and received a two-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine. (In 1968, Life magazine described Gallagher as the “tool” of a Mafia leader.)
Rep. J. Irving Whalley, R-Pa., indicted for mail fraud and obstruction of justice. Took salary kickbacks from his staff. Pleaded guilty and received a three-year suspended sentence and a $11,000 fine.
Rep. Frank Brasco, D-N.Y., indicted for conspiracy to commit bribery. Accused of conspiracy to obtain payoffs to help a truck company headed by a reputed Mafia member. Sentenced to five years (of which all but three months was suspended) and fined $10,000. (No relation to Donnie:-)
Rep. Bertram L. Podell, D-N.Y., indicted for conspiracy, bribery, perjury, and conflict of interest. Podell was accused of taking $41,000 in legal fees and campaign contributions to help a small Florida airline obtain a route to the Bahamas. Pleaded guilty to conspiracy and conflict of interest and was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and fined $5,000. (Note: The federal prosecutor was Rudolph Guiliani, who subjected Podell to such a withering cross-examination that the congressman changed his plea to guilty.)
Sen. Edward Gurney, R-Fla., indicted for conspiracy, perjury, and soliciting bribes. Gurney allegedly sought campaign contributions from Florida builders with business pending before the government. Gurney was acquitted of soliciting bribes and the jury failed to reach a verdict on conspiracy and perjury charges. Acquitted of final perjury charge in 1976.
Rep. Andrew J. Hinshaw, R-Calif., indicted by a California grand jury for soliciting a bribe, accepting bribes, embezzlement and misappropriation of funds. Hinshaw accepted money and equipment from a stereo company to influence his official conduct. A jury found that he had solicited and received a $1,000 contribution in exchange for favors while he was assessor of Orange County. Sentenced to 1 to 14 years in prison.
Rep. James F. Hastings, R-N.Y., indicted for mail fraud and filing false vouchers. Indictment alleged that Hastings had received kickbacks from the salaries of three staffers over six years. Convicted on 28 counts.
Rep. Henry J. Helstoski, D-N.J., indicted on 12 counts of bribery and conspiracy. Accused of soliciting and obtaining bribes from resident aliens in exchange for facilitating legislation on their behalf. Case was dismissed after a court ruled that the “Speech or Debate” clause of the Constitution prohibited the use of legislative acts as evidence.
Rep. Edward A. Garmatz, D-Md., indicted for bribery and conspiracy following two-year probe of corruption in the shipping industry. Indictment alleged that Garmatz had accepted up to $15,000 in 1972 from shipping companies for facilitating legislation beneficial to them while he chaired the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries. Prosecutors dropped the case when it learned that a key witness had committed perjury and forgery. The federal courthouse in Baltimore was named for Garmatz.
Rep. Richard T. Hanna, D-Calif., indicted for conspiracy to defraud the government based on his dealings with Korean rice broker Tongsun Park. Received more than $200,000 in bribes for his services. Pleaded guilty; sentenced to 6 to 30 months in prison.
Rep. Joshua Eilberg, D-Pa., indicted for illegally accepting $100,000 in legal fees for helping a Philadelphia hospital receive a $14.5 million grant. Pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years’ probation and fined $10,000.
Rep. Otto E. Passman, D-La., indicted for bribery, conspiracy, perjury and federal income tax evasion for allegedly accepting more than $200,000 from Korean businessman Tongsun Park. Case was transferred to Louisiana and Passman was acquitted.
Rep. Daniel J. Flood, D-Pa., indicted on 3 counts of perjury and bribery for taking $60,000 in bribes and using his influence as chairman of an appropriations subcommittee for political favors. Jury trial ended in a mistrial. Flood pleaded guilty to defrauding the government and received one year’s probation.
Rep. Frank Clark, D-Pa., indicted on 13 counts of mail fraud, perjury and income tax evasion following two-year FBI investigation. Charged with placing employees employees on his congressional staff to do private and campaign work for him. Pleaded guilty to mail fraud and income tax evasion. Sentenced to two years in prison and fined $11,000.
Rep. Charles C. Diggs, D-Mich., indicted on 35 counts of mail fraud and false statements. Accused of diverting more than $60,000 of his Sheriff’s salaries for personal use. Convicted and sentenced to three years in prison.
Rep. A. Claude Leach Jr., D-La., indicted for conspiracy, buying votes and accepting illegal campaign contributions in connection with his 1978 campaign. Acquitted.
Rep. Charles J. Carney, D-Ohio, indicted on one count of accepting an illegal gratuity. Carney allegedly racked up $10,000 on gasoline credit cards that were paid by Lyden Oil Co in exchange for political favors. Case dismissed due to insufficient evidence.
Rep. John W. Jenrette Jr., D-S.C., indicted on two counts of bribery and one count conspiracy in the ABSCAM scandal. Accepted $50,000 from undercover FBI agent posing as Middle Eastern businessman. Convicted on all counts. Sentenced to two years in prison.
Rep. Richard Kelly, R-Fla., indicted for bribery, conspiracy and violation of the Travel Act in ABSCAM. Kelly was filmed stuffing $25,000 into his suit and asking the “sheik’s men” if it showed. Convicted in 1981, but his motion for dismissal of the indictment was granted on the grounds that the government violated due process in its investigation.
Rep. Raymond F. Lederer, D-Pa., indicted for bribery, conspiracy, accepting an illegal gratuity and interstate travel to aid racketeering in ABSCAM. Filmed taking a $50,000 bribe. Convicted and sentenced to three years in prison and fined $20,000.
Rep. John M. Murphy, D-N.Y., was also filmed taking a $50,000 bribe in ABSCAM. Convicted of conspiracy to demand and accept money to influence the performance of his official duties, acceptance of outside compensation for the performance of his official duties, and receiving an unlawful gratuity. Sentenced to three years in prison and fined $20,000.
Rep. Michael (Ozzie) Myers, D-Pa., was another $50,000 ABSCAM bribe-taker. Indicted for bribery, conspiracy and violation of the Travel Act. Sentenced to three years in prison and fined $20,000. House voted to expel him.
Rep. Frank Thompson Jr., D-N.J., was indicted and convicted of bribery and conspiracy in the ABSCAM case. Sentenced to three years in prison and fined $20,000.
Sen. Harrison A. Williams, Jr., D-N.J., convicted in ABSCAM of bribery, receiving an unlawful gratuity, receiving illegal compensation, interstate travel to commit bribery, and interstate travel to aid racketeering. Williams agreed to a scheme involving receipt of a loan and stock certificates from “Arab businessmen” for a titanium mine in return for political favors. Sentenced to three years in prison.
Rep. Mario Biaggi, D-N.Y., convicted on charges that he illegally received about $900,000 in stock and cash from Wedtech, a Bronx defense contractor. Biaggi, a highly decorated New York City cop, was sentenced to eight years in prison and fined $242,000. Served two years and two months when a judge ordered his release due to ill health. (Biaggi was also convicted in 1987 for accepting a vacation at a Florida resort in exchange for seeking to arrange government contracts. Served less than half of a two-and-a-half year sentence)
Rep. Robert Garcia, D-N.Y., sentenced to three years in prison on charges of conspiracy and extortion. Garcia and his wife extorted $76,000 in payments, channeled through Mrs. Garcia’s business, and a $20,000 interest-free loan from Wedtech. The wife of the Wedtech chairman invested $77,500 in a Benetton clothing franchise that Mrs. Garcia bought in Puerto Rico, and gave Mrs. Garcia a diamond and emerald necklace.
Rep. Nicholas Mavroules, D-Mass., indicted for extortion, racketeering, illegal acceptance of gratuities, the filing of false tax returns and the filing of false financial disclosure statements with the House. Pleaded guilty to charges that included failing to report the use of free cars as income and accepting a gratuity in the form of a low-rent beach house. Sentenced to 15 months and fined $15,000.
Rep. Albert Bustamante, D-Tex., indicted on 10 counts of racketeering, conspiracy and accepting bribes totaling $340,000. Sentenced to 54 months.
Rep. Joseph Kolter, D-Pa., accused of embezzling more than $44,000 in cash and merchandise, including 650 pieces of china, 40 timepieces and 30 fancy pens and two gold necklaces. Sentenced to six months in prison.
Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., indicted in 1994 on 17 felony charges, including the embezzlement of $695,000 in taxpayer and campaign funds. The longtime House Ways and Means chairman pleaded guilty to two counts of mail fraud. Served 15 months in prison. Clinton pardoned him in 2000.
Rep. Walter Tucker III, D-Calif., convicted of nine felony counts of extortion and federal income tax evasion while he was mayor of the L.A. suburb of Compton. Tucker, a former L.A. county prosecutor, accepted a $30,000 bribe from businessman-turned-informant and demanding $250,000 from an undercover FBI agent. Sentenced to two years and three months in prison.
Rep. Donald “Buz” Lukens, R-Ohio, indicted on five counts of bribery and conspiracy. Lukens accepted $27,500 in payments from an Ohio businessman in return for political favors. He also accepted four bribery payments ranging from $2,500 to $15,000. Sentenced to 30 months in prison. Lukens had already been voted out of office following his 1989 conviction for having sex with a 16-year-old.
Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio, indicted on 10 counts of bribery, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to defraud the United States, filing a false tax return and racketeering. Required staff to do personal chores for him and kickback a portion of their paychecks. He also accepted cash bribes and various favors from businessmen who were seeking his help in Washington. Defended himself at trial and lost on all counts. Sentenced to eight years in prison. House voted to expel him.
Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif., pleaded guilty in 2005 to conspiracy and tax evasion charges. Admitted accepting more than $2.4 million (actual total closer to $3 million) in bribes from government contractors in exchange for political favors. Bribes included a mansion, a yacht, a Rolls-Royce. Sentenced to more than eight years in federal prison.
Rep. Robert Ney, R-Ohio, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and making false statements. Ney accepted gifts from lobbyist Jack Abramoff that included meals, sports tickets, a golfing trip to Scotland and other travel valued at more than $170,000, and thousands of dollars in gambling chips. Sentenced to 30 months in prison.
Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., indicted on 15 counts of racketeering, money laundering and obstruction of justice. Jefferson is alleged to have received over $400,000 in bribes through a company maintained in the name of his spouse and children. Jefferson was videotaped accepting $100,000 in bribes, $90,000 of which was found in his freezer. Case pending.