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Crooked congressman going to prison

Cunningham sentenced to 8 years, 4 months for taking bribes

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CUNNINGHAM'S GIFTS

-- A Rolls-Royce
-- Yacht-shopping trip: $15,000
-- Two rugs: $40,000 each
-- French lampshade: $3,500
-- China hutch: $24,000
-- Hall tree: $3,700
-- Statue: $12,000
-- Moving expenses: $11,393
-- 42-foot yacht: $140,000
-- 3 shooting simulators: $13,800

Source: The Associated Press

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SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- Former GOP Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham was sentenced Friday to eight years and four months in federal prison for taking $2.4 million in bribes from at least three defense contractors.

The sentence is the highest ever for a former member of Congress, prosecutor Jason Forge said. Cunningham was taken into custody after sentencing, he said.

The 64-year-old Cunningham, a former U.S. representative from California, pleaded guilty November 28 to conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud and tax evasion. He also pleaded guilty to a separate tax-evasion violation for failing to disclose income in 2004. (Watch Forge applaud the prison time handed down to Cunningham -- 4:36)

Hours after entering the pleas, Cunningham resigned from Congress in tears.

He could have been sentenced to 10 years in prison, but U.S. District Judge Larry Burns shortened his time because of Cunningham's military service, age and health, Forge said. If he continues to cooperate with authorities, his sentence could be reduced further, the prosecutor said.

Cunningham is a former Navy fighter pilot who shot down five MiGs during the Vietnam War.

"We're absolutely satisfied," said Forge, adding that he hoped the sentence "will help restore the public's confidence in our system and respect for our laws."

Cunningham sat on the powerful subcommittee that approves spending for defense programs. He has admitted accepting cash and gifts aimed at influencing the Defense Department while serving in that capacity.

The bribes enabled the congressman -- whose salary was about $160,000 a year -- to buy a mansion, yacht, Rolls-Royce and condo in suburban Washington, prosecutors said.

Perhaps the most audacious of Cunningham's purchases was a $2.5 million home he bought after selling his home in San Diego to defense contractor Mitchell Wade for $1.6 million. (Read about Wade's guilty plea)

Wade, in turn, sold the San Diego house for about $900,000, sparking allegations that Wade bought the home at a higher price to scratch Cunningham's back for steering Pentagon contracts his way.

Wade pleaded guilty last month to two counts of conspiracy, one count of using an interstate wire facility for bribery and one count of election fraud. He faces sentencing in August.

House Speaker and fellow Republican Dennis Hastert issued a statement after Cunningham's sentencing stating that he hopes the congressman's prison term sends "a strong message" that nobody is above the law.

"It is my hope that Congressman Cunningham will spend his incarceration thinking long and hard about how he broke the trust of the voters that elected him and those on Capitol Hill who served with him," Hastert said.

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