SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A former Democratic campaign treasurer was sentenced Wednesday to more than eight years in federal prison for defrauding high-profile clients such as U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein in a case that a judge said tampered with the electoral process.
Kinde Durkee, who has been described by prosecutors as the Bernie Madoff of campaign treasurers, was sentenced to a total of 97 months and ordered to pay $10.5 million in restitution after pleading guilty to five counts of mail fraud in March. It's unlikely, however, that most of the money will ever be repaid, since Durkee has few assets.
During sentencing, U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller emphasized the egregious nature of Durkee's crimes.
"What she did had an impact on the political and electoral processes on which our democracy is based," Mueller said.
Dressed in black pants and a black sweater, the 59-year-old Durkee 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 that also targeted dozens of state lawmakers and nonprofit political groups.
Prosecutors and Durkee's attorney, Daniel Nixon, said she ran the equivalent of a shell game from her Burbank office, shifting millions of dollars among bank accounts for politicians, community groups, personal accounts and those of her business, 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 a pre-sentencing report by Nixon.
Authorities said she used the money to pay mortgages for her home and business, care for her parents in a home for seniors and for some pleasure items such as season tickets to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The judge said nothing suggested Durkee lived a luxurious lifestyle, and she asked that Durkee be ordered to serve in a prison that has mental health services so she could receive counseling.
Durkee is scheduled to surrender to U.S. marshals in Los Angeles on Jan. 2. She remains free on $200,000 bond.
Nixon said in his report that Durkee 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 report also said Durkee 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.
U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said outside court that Durkee was not just a poor business manager but also acted deliberately to defraud her clients for more than a decade.
"Ms. Durkee repeatedly lied to clients," he said. "So it was very deliberate over time."
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. The judge followed the prosecutors' recommendation of 97 months.
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 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.
As part of restitution, 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.