SACRAMENTO (AP) — A former Democratic campaign treasurer was sentenced Wednesday to eight years in federal prison for defrauding high-profile clients, including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, of at least $7 million.
Kinde Durkee, 59, was sentenced to a total of 97 months behind bars in U.S. District Court after pleading guilty to five counts of mail fraud in March, when U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner called her "the Bernie Madoff of campaign treasurers," referring to the infamous New York financial manager.
Durkee read a brief statement and apologized in court to "those who trusted me and I betrayed."
"I take full and complete responsibility for what I've done," she said.
Feinstein said she lost about $4.5 million in the scam involving Durkee that also targeted several state lawmakers and nonprofit political groups.
Authorities said Durkee used the money to pay mortgages for her home and business, care for her parents in a home for seniors and for incidental expenses such as trips to Costco.
Wagner has said he believes the actual fraud was closer to $10 million.
During sentencing, Judge Kimberly Mueller emphasized the egregious nature of Durkee's crimes. The judge asked that she be ordered to serve in a prison that has mental health services.
"What she did had an impact on the political and electoral processes on which our democracy is based," Mueller said.
Durkee also was ordered to pay $10.5 million in restitution.
Daniel Nixon, an attorney for Durkee, said in a pre-sentencing report that she was incapable of managing her business partly because of her fear of conflict, which led her to let candidates' bills go unpaid and refuse to fire incompetent staff.
The crimes could have carried a maximum penalty of 100 years, but Durkee's plea deal called for a possible sentence of 11 to 14 years. She has been free on $200,000 bond.
Nixon and prosecutors said Durkee ran the equivalent of a shell game through the Burbank office of Durkee & Associates.
"Although the number of clients grew, so did the number of non-paying clients, and Ms. Durkee found that she had trouble confronting her clients to collect payment," according to her attorney's report.
The roster of victims also included Reps. Loretta Sanchez and Susan Davis; state Sen. Lou Correa, D-Anaheim; Assemblyman Jose Solorio, D-Santa Ana; and political nonprofit groups such as the Los Angeles County Democratic Party.
The pre-sentencing report also said she has always been known as a kind and generous woman, and that she did not lead a lavish lifestyle. Durkee's husband of nearly 30 years, John Forgy, has been unemployed for more than 15 years, "which increased the financial pressure on Ms. Durkee to support them," the report said.
The scheme was uncovered by investigators with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, who noticed discrepancies in the filings for Solorio and asked the FBI for assistance. The state lawmaker lost at least $677,000 to Durkee, according to the criminal complaint.
Durkee and her husband have agreed to forfeit the Burbank office from which she operated and to hand over her 401(k) retirement account, estimated to be valued at about $90,000.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.)
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