(Adds details, background on case)
SAN DIEGO, Dec 3 (Reuters) - U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter, a leading California conservative, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a single federal charge of conspiring to misuse campaign funds in a corruption case that could help Democrats gain his traditionally Republican seat.
The felony offense carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but his attorney has said that prosecutors have agreed to recommend significantly less time than that. Sentencing was set for March 17.
Hunter, 42, a U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran and early supporter of President Donald Trump, had originally pleaded not guilty in the case and insisted before this week that he was the victim of a politically motivated prosecution.
He appeared on Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Thomas Whelan in San Diego for a change-of-plea hearing that lasted less than 10 minutes, answering "guilty" when asked by the judge for his plea.
Hunter and his wife, Margaret, were indicted in 2018 on charges of misappropriating $250,000 in campaign donations to pay for personal expenses, including their children's private school tuition, lavish travel, expensive meals at restaurants, groceries and clothing.
Margaret Hunter pleaded guilty in June to conspiring to misuse campaign funds, and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in the case. (Reporting by Jennifer McEntee in San Diego Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Chris Reese and Tom Brown)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.