Monday, July 18, 2005 | The column that we submitted last week for Voice of San Diego (“Less Hanky, More Panky”) had some controversial cutting done to it. During this week, Mike and I have been discussing this matter with editor Barbara Bry. I will discuss the points of view of both sides, before I end by talking about Duke’s blood money.

In the section that was cut from “Less Hanky, More Panky,” I raised the question that the 2003 price of $2.55 million for Cunningham’s palatial estate seemed, shall we say, lower than might be expected. I was asking that an enterprising journalist dig into this.

It is probably of some significance that Cunningham bought the estate from another of his loyal contributors, a former executive of a defense contractor who will soon be going to trial in Federal Court for accounting fraud. Cunningham sure knows how to pick his friends, doesn’t he? “Birds of a feather…”

Obligingly, Barbara put some reporters on the job of answering my question. After two days of gathering data, she maintains that their research shows that the 2003 price of Cunningham’s Rancho Santa Fe estate was “in the ballpark.” We greatly appreciate the time and effort that Barbara and her staff applied to this. However, we disagree with their conclusions.

Barbara says that the mark-up from the previous owner’s purchase in 1999 and his sale to Cunningham in 2003 was a 40 percent increase, which is greater than the average of 24 percent increase for value of homes in that area. However, it is irrelevant how much the house was marked up over the price that the seller had paid. What matters is whether the price was comparable to that of other homes at the time of its sale to Cunningham.

I would also note that it appears from the Voice of San Diego staff’s data that the seller of the house – the now-indicted defense contractor executive – would seem to have paid far lower than market value himself back in 1999. Mike and I believe that there is far more than meets the eye in the serial low-ball sales of this estate among war profiteers.

Staff also made several other mistakes in interpreting the data, by comparing unlike houses and lots, and comparing sales in differing years as if they were occurring in the same year.

Here is an interesting link with a detailed running discussion of comparable property sales in Rancho Santa Fe in 2003:

A participant on that Web site, who calls herself Michelle, notes that homes comparable to Cunningham’s were selling for $653 to $797 per square foot in 2003. Regarding the $334 per square foot that Cunningham paid, Michelle states, “The bottom line is that by any measure we use, $334 per sq. ft. does not even seem to be in the ballpark for Via del Charro” – the street where Cunningham’s mansion is. Michelle concludes that the Cunningham estate was under-priced in 2003 by over $3 million.

This alleged graft is far greater than the totals of the already-reported graft that Cunningham had accumulated with his other financial shenanigans: the mysterious $400,000 sale/nonsale of his yacht to a New York felon, even though Cunningham apparently continued to own the yacht after the sale; and an apparent $700,000 inflation of price for the sale of his house in Del Mar Heights to the defense contractor in whose yacht he was residing rent-free, and to whom he was allegedly generously steering many millions of your tax dollars.

Cunningham tearfully announced on July 14 that he would not seek re-election and that he would sell the controversial estate in Rancho Santa Fe. He whined that he and his wife had just wanted to find a nice place to retire and be near their friends – more of his generous defense contractors, no doubt.

The newspapers reported that Cunningham would be donating $300,000 of the proceeds of the property sale to three local charities. That sounds generous, until you consider the following:

1. The estate is now conservatively estimated to be worth over $6 million.

If Cunningham wants to do something meaningful, he can donate all of the house profits to the families of the dead and maimed troops for whose sufferings he and the rest of the Bush administration are directly responsible; he can resign from Congress and end his shameless career; and he can confess to the grand jury and do his time.

Anything less than that is just another maudlin show of Cunningham’s crocodile-tears hypocrisy.

Mike and Ramona Byron are writing a regular column about people, issues and events in North County. Voice welcomes all perspectives from different parts of the region.

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