Duncan Hunter and his wife Margaret entered — and exited — the federal courthouse separately on Thursday.
Rep. Hunter, the Republican congressman from Alpine, rushed to his black pickup as crowds chanted, “Shame. Shame. Shame.”
Margaret left through a different exit. She had her head down. Onlookers said the 43-year-old mother of three looked as if she was about to cry.
They pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, falsification of records and aiding and abetting in the prohibited use of campaign contributions.
Congressman Hunter, 41, is well-known in California and on Capitol Hill. His grandfather, Robert Hunter, was a veteran who hosted a popular TV broadcast in Washington D.C. with Republican members of Congress who wanted to give weekly reports on their districts. After moving back to California in the mid-1950s, he developed the Jurupa Hills Country Club and Golf Course, and many surrounding communities in western Riverside, according to news reports.
Hunter’s father, Duncan L. Hunter, held the same congressional seat as his son for 28 years and had a short-lived bid for president in 2008.
By the time the youngest Hunter entered the race for what was then the 52nd District, he had the name recognition of three generations and ties to a massive support network from his father’s previous campaigns. He took 56 percent of the vote in the 2008 election, voting records show. By 2014, he was winning with a 42-point margin. In 2016, he won the seat again by 27 points.
But little is publicly known about Hunter’s alleged partner in crime.
According to the indictment, the majority of illegal spending was done by both Hunters, with the largest chunk being the $116,000 paid to Margaret Hunter as her husband’s campaign manager or consultant. But for expenses attributed to Margaret or Duncan Hunter individually, hers totaled more than four times as much as his.
Data show she spent $92,506 on school tuition, personal makeup from Bloomingdale’s, restaurant meals that were unrelated to the campaign and tickets to SeaWorld, among other things. The indictment says she spent more than $5,000 of campaign money on fast food.
Meanwhile, Duncan Hunter is tied to about $20,000 in illegal expenses, including golf, groceries, dog food and a $302 “jacket for his personal use,” according to the indictment.
As he has several times during the investigation of his campaign spending, Hunter pointed to his wife's role in national television interviews this week.
“She was also the campaign manager, so whatever she did that'll be looked at too, I'm sure," Hunter told Fox News. "But I didn't do it. I didn't spend any money illegally.”
The two sat four seats apart in the courtroom.
According to articles, voter registrations, address history and other public information, Margaret is the oldest daughter of Steve and Miroslawa Jankowski. The couple moved their two daughters to America in the late 1980’s, escaping “the bleak landscape of communist Poland,” said Steve Jankowski’s 2010 obituary.
Margaret and her younger sister, Bozena, who goes by Bonnie, attended Will C. Crawford Senior High School in El Cerrito and graduated a year apart. Yearbook photos show they played in the same volleyball team in 1992.
Wayne Rosenberger, who was the varsity volleyball coach at Crawford at the time, spoke highly of Margaret and Bonnie.
“I didn't have them in class so I don't know what they were like as students, but they were just sweethearts,” Rosenberger said by phone on Friday. “Both she and her sister were great kids.”
Margaret’s political career started early. In the fall of her senior year, Margaret volunteered to work in Rep. Duncan Lee Hunter's local congressional office for a government class assignment, according to a 2004 article in The San Diego Union-Tribune about members of Congress with children serving in the military. Margaret said she met the congressman’s son, Duncan Duane Hunter, on election night in 1992. He was a junior at Granite Hills High School at the time.
"It was one of those love-at-first-sight things," Margaret said of their introduction, according to that U-T article. "I knew that day I wanted to marry him. I broke it to him two weeks later."
High school yearbook records show Margaret graduated in 1993. She later attended San Diego State University, majoring in finance, and continued to work on the elder Hunter’s campaign. She spoke to the press in 1998 about the congressman’s mediocre competition in the upcoming midterm election.
“We're not ignoring the campaign," the then-23-year-old said. “We're not going to sleepwalk through anything. Even if he's unopposed, he still has a campaign.”
She worked as a staffer for the campaign from 1994 to 2002, records show, and by the end of her tenure was paid more than $95,000 in salary and $10,000 for assistance in fundraising.
She married Duncan D. Hunter in 1998 and saw her husband through two deployments. He enlisted in the Marines shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. In 2007, after announcing his plans to take his father’s seat in Congress, he was called back to active duty. Military rules prevented him from participating in campaign activities during his six-month deployment to Afghanistan, so Margaret picked up the slack.
According to a July 2007 report in the U-T, Margaret juggled a lot of the blogging and appearances for her husband’s campaign. She was also a single parent taking care of their three children, one of whom was 10 months old at the time.
“I didn't know I would be doing this," Margaret told the reporter. "When Duncan did actually leave and we started campaigning, it turned out to be a little more challenging than I thought, but ... I'm doing well.”
She created and ran her husband’s website and worked with her father-in-law to plan fundraising events until Hunter returned from Afghanistan, the 2007 report said.
Soon Margaret was brought on staff, which the indictment alleges was part of a conspiracy to convert campaign funds for personal use.
“Duncan Hunter installed Margaret Hunter as his paid campaign manager despite the protests of his treasurer ... in part because — as they discussed — the Hunters ‘need[ed] the extra money’ that would come from her salary,” the indictment claims.
She was paid $3,000 per month until April 2017.
According to the indictment, the campaign’s finances were not always sound when Margaret Hunter was the manager.
“On or about October 30, 2012, following an article in the San Diego Reader publicizing Margaret Hunter’s salary and various expense reimbursements, Duncan Hunter relieved her of her formal duties with the campaign,” the indictment says. “Although the campaign was in dire financial condition, and had just canceled a pre-election mailer due to insufficient funds, Duncan Hunter continued to pay Margaret Hunter a salary from campaign funds and allowed her to keep her campaign credit card.”
Over a seven-year period, the family also overdrew their personal bank account more than 1,100 times and records show campaign funds were used to pick up the slack, the indictment says.
In January 2010, Margaret spent more than $1,000 in campaign money at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino. It went toward food, drinks and three nights of lodging during a personal ski trip.
“On this day, the Hunter family bank account had a negative balance and incurred six separate insufficient funds fees (totaling $198),” the indictment said. “Also on this same day, Duncan Hunter withdrew $20 from his personal bank account, leaving a balance of $15.02.”
Hunter is paid $174,000 annual salary as a congressman.
Records allege that Margaret attempted to disguise the questionable purchases when reporting them to campaign officials.
On 22 separate occasions, Margaret spent money at Barnes & Noble on personal items for family and friends, totaling $2,600, records show, alleging that she concealed one of the purchases as “booklets on San Diego.” She spent $300 on personal items at Target and said the items were for “teacher/parent & supporter events,” the indictment says, adding that she bought $156 worth of groceries for the family and reported the expense as “misc. items” for school-related campaign events.
Prosecutors allege that her family benefited as well.
She spent $226 on an American Airlines ticket for her sister in April 2010, the indictment claims. Two years later, the campaign paid for Margaret’s sister and two other family members to attend a funeral in Tuscon. The airfare cost $918.
According to the indictment, Margaret reported the expense as a “flight to Baltimore for NRCC winter meeting.”
She paid for her mother’s travel to Warsaw, Poland, on two separate occasions, prosecutors allege. The most recent travel, totaling $995, included two tickets — one for her mother and one for her mother’s boyfriend. Court documents allege that Margaret “told the treasurer that they were related to campaign trips to New Orleans and Kentucky.”
The spending started to come to light in April 2016, when the FEC and then the Union-Tribune began to question the expenses. Hunter began paying his campaign treasury back tens of thousands of dollars. By November 2017, facing financial pressure, the family sold their Alpine home and moved in with Duncan Hunter’s father.
Messages to Margaret Hunter, her attorney, several family members and former teachers and classmates went unanswered.
The couple is set to appear in court again Sept. 4.