SACRAMENTO — A disgraced campaign treasurer arrested in September for stealing over $7 million from her clients, including Santa Monica politicians, pleaded guilty Friday to five counts of mail fraud and could spend the next 11 and 14 years in prison.
According to documents released by the United States Attorney’s Office, Kinde Durkee admitted to causing losses to her clients that exceeded $7 million, in what amounts to the largest embezzlement by a campaign committee treasurer ever prosecuted.
Under the terms of the plea deal, Durkee may have to serve between 138 and 168 months in federal prison, and will definitely be required to make restitution to her former clients.
Durkee’s home, the equity on her former Burbank office and even her retirement account are all on the fire sale list to raise funds to pay people back.
Her retirement account has an estimated value of $100,000 to $120,000, according to the Associated Press.
The maximum sentence that the court could have imposed was 20 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, a three-year period of supervised release and a special assessment of $100 for each count.
In return for the plea, prosecutors have agreed not to pursue money laundering charges, each of which carry a sentence between 10 and 20 years, depending on the statute, according to Lauren Horwood, the public information officer for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in California’s eastern district.
The plea brings to a close an investigation into over a decade of malfeasance, with Durkee tapping into her clients’ campaign accounts to pay personal bills and using money from one account to make it appear that another was whole.
In that time, Durkee managed campaign funds for almost 400 Democratic campaigns across California, and several local campaign accounts including Terry O’Day for City Council 2010, Chris Braun for Rent Control 2010, Santa Monicans for Quality Government and the Committee to Protect Community and Schools.
The theft impacted over 50 campaigns, and the total losses exceeded $7 million and could have run as high as $20 million. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and Durkee’s attorney, Daniel Nixon, could not come to an agreement on the amount.
It’s unclear at this point how much of the $9,000 taken from the Committee to Protect Community and Schools account will come back, wrote Tom Larmore, a local attorney active on the measures Y and YY campaign, in an e-mail.
“I’ll know more once the court rules how the remaining funds are to be distributed,” he wrote.
The charges Durkee pleaded to refer to five incidents between July 2010 and February 2011, wherein Durkee sent in falsified campaign filings to the California Secretary of State and the Federal Elections Commission that covered up the money she’d taken from clients’ accounts.
According to a documented filed Tuesday, the offenses investigated began with a $200,000 withdrawal in 2006 from the campaign committee for Jerome Horton, who was running for the California State Board of Equalization.
In June 2010, Durkee became aware that she was under investigation by the Fair Political Practices Commission and she repaid some of the money she took from Horton’s account by taking money from three others, including the committee Feinstein for Senate, Committee to Re-Elect Loretta Sanchez and the Committee to Re-Elect Linda Sanchez.
Durkee reported none of those transfers on the disclosure forms that she later sent to the state and federal government, which became the basis of the mail fraud charges.
According to court documents, Durkee used the money she stole to pay her mortgage, her employees’ salaries and various personal bills.
Durkee is scheduled for sentencing on June 20.
Her trouble won’t be over then, however.
Durkee now faces civil lawsuits from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who believes she may have lost as much as $5 million, and other victims, according to the AP.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.