Ex-campaign treasurer to several California lawmakers could get 8 years in fraud

Patrick McGreevy / Los Angeles Times /

Published Nov 27, 2012 at 04:00AM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Federal prosecutors recommended Monday that former campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee — who pleaded guilty earlier this year to mail fraud involving the theft of more than $7 million from her clients — be sentenced to about eight years in prison.

Among those who said Durkee had raided their campaign funds were Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., California Democratic Reps. Laura Richardson, Loretta Sanchez, Linda T. Sanchez and Susan A. Davis, and the Los Angeles County Democratic Party.

“Over the course of approximately 12 years, the defendant misappropriated millions of dollars from clients, used the money for her personal and business expenses, and prepared false campaign disclosure reports to hide the theft,” a sentencing memorandum filed by U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner said. The document proposed a 97-month sentence be handed down Wednesday, when Durkee is due to appear in federal court. Prosecutors had been considering a sentence of up to 14 years.

“Eight years is a lot of time to spend in a federal penitentiary,” said Eric Bauman, chairman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, which lost $200,000 as a result of the scheme. “I think it’s a reasonable sentence.”

But Bill Carrick, a campaign spokesman for Feinstein, said prison time was not enough.

“I would be much, much happier if I knew all about how we’re going to get restitution for the victims,” he said. Feinstein’s campaign has said $4.6 million was stolen from its accounts.

Prosecutors said they hoped to report to the court Wednesday whether any of the missing money might be recovered. Wagner had said in March, when Durkee pleaded guilty to five counts of mail fraud, that it appeared she had spent all the money, using the funds for things like meeting her business payroll and buying ice cream at Baskin-Robbins.

“The United States believes that this is an appropriate sentence under the (state) sentencing guidelines” as well as under federal law, the prosecutor wrote in the document released Monday. “This sentence will reflect the seriousness of the offense, provide just punishment and afford adequate deterrence.”

In addition to the money that was misappropriated, candidates had to battle with the bank Durkee used after it froze all of the accounts when the investigation began.

A judge recently approved unfreezing accounts holding about $2.5 million in funds for various campaigns, said Atticus Wegman, an attorney pursuing civil action against Durkee on behalf of federal and state legislators.

The court released $38,000 left in Loretta Sanchez’s campaign bank account, but she was still missing $400,000, Wegman said. Former state Sen. Louis Correa, a Democrat, got back $69,000, but $700,000 was still missing.