Inside A Disgraced Congressman’s Floating ‘Party Palace’

An exterior view of the "Duke-Stir."
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A major character in a legendary congressional corruption scandal has been hiding out by the docks in Baltimore under an assumed name and remained unseen for about eight years. Until now.

It is the ship once known as the “Duke-Stir,” a 42.2 foot yacht that was home to ex-Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, a California Republican who pleaded guilty in 2005 to taking part in a massive, multimillion dollar bribery scheme. During his days on the Duke-Stir, Cunningham reportedly was fond of entertaining female guests by the light of a lava lamp. Today, the boat is home to a bartender named Greg Banker and his girlfriend, Doreen Sweeten.

On Tuesday, Banker invited TPM to come on board for a tour of the boat and the things Cunningham left behind. Banker declined to discuss some of what he originally found on the boat to avoid “dishing dirt,” but he said it would be safe to describe the ship as a former congressional “party palace.”

“He was a partier,” said Banker. “It was obviously a fun place for him to hang out.”

In June, Cunningham completed his eight-year prison sentence, the longest ever given to a member of Congress. He received more than a year off for good behavior and is currently living in an undisclosed location.

Cunningham’s alleged misdeeds involved securing lucrative government contracts in exchange for millions in bribes. One of the perks he allegedly received in exchange for these efforts was being allowed to live rent-free on the yacht, which was owned by a defense contractor named Mitchell Wade. In 2006, Wade also pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme, which was so epic that it served as the inspiration for TPM’s annual Golden Dukes awards for scandalous and crazy political conduct.

At the height of the scandal, Wade got rid of the Duke-Stir by completing a rushed, hushed sale to Banker.

“We got on the boat and we started going through stuff. There was bottles of wine that were incredible, like nice wines and all kinds of — I mean it was just a party boat,” Banker said. “You could tell it was a flop pad, if you will. … From what was left behind, somebody was having an awful lot of fun on this boat.”

Banker said he was working as a yacht broker in 2005 in Annapolis, Md. when he received a call from an attorney who worked for Wade and asked him to come see her immediately about helping with the sale of a boat. When Banker arrived at Washington, D.C.’s Capital Yacht Club, he saw the Duke-Stir covered in “yellow tape.” The attorney gave a partial explanation for the odd circumstances.

“She said, ‘Well, my client who owns the boat would like to sell it. There’s some controversy and he’d like to sell it as quickly as possible,'” Banker said.

Once Banker agreed to help with the sale, he said the attorney told him she wanted the Duke-Stir to “just disappear that day” because there were “reporters climbing all over the story.” Banker called a captain to pilot the boat to Annapolis.

“He got a couple guys together, showed up that night, spent the night on the boat, and in the cover of darkness and fog, with helicopters and reporters, pulled the boat out of the marina,” recounted Banker.

After getting the Duke-Stir out of D.C., Banker had to get the boat “cleaned up.”

“Obviously, it had been tossed by police, the feds,” said Banker. “It was stuff laying around all over the place.”

Banker wasn’t the only one who made sure the Duke-Stir was in ship shape. Days after he got the yacht to Annapolis, he said, Wade “sent some people down with a truck and cleaned a bunch of stuff out.”

Once the boat was ready, Banker posted an online ad and showed it to the attorney.

“She said, ‘Get it off the website,'” Banker said. “‘We don’t want the exposure right now.'”

At this point, Banker realized he had a “very motivated” seller and might be able to secure a unique bargain for himself.

“In the meantime, my girlfriend and I had looked at it and I told my girlfriend, I said, ‘This is the shit, this is a badass boat.’ She’s like, ‘I agree,'” said Banker.

Banker contacted the attorney and offered to take the Duke-Stir off her hands for what he described as “a ridiculous number.” Following a quick round of negotiations, the attorney said Wade agreed to sell Banker the Duke-Stir at a steep discount — as long as he agreed to two conditions.

“She called back in about 15 minutes. She said, ‘The boat’s yours, get the name off the back of it, and we would appreciate it, if you wouldn’t talk to the media,'” Banker said.

Duke-Stir was re-christened “Bankers Hours” after its new owner and docked at a marina in Baltimore. The boat boasts a back deck with stunning views of the harbor, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen, a large main room, and unique memorabilia from Cunningham’s time on board.

Banker showed TPM some of the souvenirs he kept, including a congressional lapel pin, wine glasses stamped with the House of Representatives seal, a flag from the Capital Yacht Club, signed paperwork from one of Cunningham’s real estate deals, prints with drawings of fish, a mysterious hotel key with an ornate tassel, a “Captain’s Quarter’s” sign Cunningham had hanging outside the main bedroom, and a photo of the congressman, who was a famed fighter pilot, standing in front of a large jet. There were some things Cunningham left on board that Banker declined to show or even discuss. He also said there was one thing he wasn’t even willing to look at himself because he was afraid it might show Cunningham’s most private moments.

“I’ve got one Hi-8 tape I’ve never played that I found with some other stuff,” said Banker. “I don’t know that I want to play it. I don’t know that I want to know.”

Though he changed the yacht’s name and has never before spoken to the press about his boat, Banker said the Duke-Stir has occasionally been recognized by visitors at the marina with Capitol Hill connections. He told one story involving a man he described as a former lobbyist.

“He’s walking by one day and he stops and he goes, ‘Is that the Duke-Stir?’ I said, ‘It is, how the heck did you know?'” Banker said. “He goes, ‘I’ve been on that boat. … There was some partying going on on that boat. That was a great boat.'”

View photos of the Duke-Stir below.

Greg Banker at home on the Duke-Stir.

A framed photo of ex-Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham found on board the Duke-Stir.

The Duke-Stir’s cockpit.

A wine glass bearing the seal of the U.S. House of Representatives on board the Duke-Stir.

An outside view of the Duke-Stir.

Art that once belonged to ex-Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham hanging on board the Duke-Stir.

A flag from the Duke-Stir’s days at the Capital Yacht Club.

The Duke-Stir’s galley.

A hotel key left by ex-Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham on board the Duke-Stir.

Photos by Hunter Walker.

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