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Former US congressman, Arkansas resident receives a presidential pardon

Misty Castile
Hot Springs Village Voice
Randall "Duke" Cunningham stands outside El Jimador in Hot Springs Village, Ark. in April 2015.

In the waning hours of his administration, former President Donald Trump released a flurry of pardons including a former Republican congressman from California who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion in 2005.

Randall "Duke" Cunningham, 79, admitted to receiving $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors in exchange for favor with federal business. He was sentenced to eight years and four months in prison.

Following his early release in 2013, Cunningham moved to Hot Springs Village, Arkansas.  

"I found the people of Arkansas to be very forgiving," Cunningham told the Hot Springs Village Voice on Wednesday.  "There was forgiveness there. I felt that. The only thing I don't like about Arkansas is the ticks and chiggers." 

He says he made many friends living in the Village and always felt welcomed by his neighbors. 

Republican Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham,  of the 50th district in California,  reads a statement outside the federal courthouse in San Diego Monday Nov. 28, 2005 where he pled guilty to conspiring to commit bribery, honest services fraud, and tax evasion.  (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi) ORG XMIT: CALI105

Cunningham recounted dark times following his guilty plea.

"There was a time I didn't care if I lived or died," he said while crediting his faith and wife Sharon with keeping him alive. 

The former Navy pilot, who was shot down in Vietnam, said there were a lot of people who helped him get this pardon including former Speaker of the House. He says not only did he have a lawyer, but he credits former house speaker Newt Gingrich who he said helped push the process along. 

"It makes life worth living when people look at you and accept you, and this pardon is another step forward," Cunningham said.

The pardon, he said, means society has given him a second chance and he won't "let them down."

Trump's pardons:See the li

While he regrets his past decisions, he has moved forward. 

"Sometimes you do stupid things, but I don't do that anymore.  Now I'm just living my life with Christ."

Now retired, Cunningham now lives in Hensley, Arkansas, and regularly speaks to military and civic groups about his experiences in the Navy and as an instructor at the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program,better known as TOPGUN.