SACRAMENTO — The popular campaign treasurer convicted of stealing millions from her Democratic clients will serve up to eight years and one month in prison, a U.S. District Court judge ruled Wednesday.
Kinde Durkee, 59, will spend at least 85 percent of that time behind bars and will serve another three years in supervised release for what attorneys believe to be the largest embezzlement case involving a campaign committee treasurer ever prosecuted at over $10 million.
Judge Kimberly J. Mueller also ordered a $10.5 million restitution for the more than 70 victims impacted by Durkee’s criminal acts, which include at least two Santa Monica-based groups.
“What she did had an impact on the political and electoral processes on which our democracy is based,” Mueller said at the sentencing, according to the Associated Press.
Durkee will turn over her $90,000 retirement account and her office building in Burbank will be put up for auction, said Lauren Horwood, the public information officer of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in California’s eastern district.
“Durkee’s greed manifested as blatant disregard and record-setting losses for the victim organizations. We will never truly know how such actions impacted the quality of life in the organizations’ respective communities,” said Herbert M. Brown, special agent in charge of the Sacramento Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
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, the AP reported.
Durkee plead guilty in March 2012 to five charges of mail fraud in connection with the thefts.
Prosecutors accused her of taking money from accounts she controlled for various candidates for elected office.
When one realized money was missing, she would take money from another to fill the hole, which caused U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner to describe her as “the Bernie Madoff of campaign treasurers,” referring to the infamous New York financial manager.
The scheme came to light when investigators from the California Fair Political Practices Commission noticed discrepancies in the filings for Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-Santa Ana), according to the AP.
The biggest loser appears to be Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who reportedly lost $4.5 million.
Locally, Durkee was the treasurer for Councilmember Terry O’Day, the Committee to Protect Community and Schools, former Rent Control Board member Chris Braun and developer-backed Santa Monicans for Quality Government.
Of those, O’Day and the Committee to Protect Community and Schools, which had been organized to support the half-cent sales tax measure in 2010, lost the most money.
Although he’s content with the sentence, Tom Larmore, who took a lead role in the schools committee, said he didn’t hold out much hope for getting more than 15 percent of the lost money back.
“Fortunately, our campaign was over before all this surfaced, so we didn’t have any outstanding bills to pay,” Larmore said.
Durkee’s attorney, Daniel Nixon, did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but in a response to the pre-sentence report released Tuesday, he tried to put a different spin on his client’s crimes.
Nixon described Durkee as a generally law-abiding citizen who got caught up in the stresses of trying to run her campaign consultant business.
She used the money to keep the flagging business afloat, avoid firing workers and pay for her American Express bill and her mother’s assisted living center.
At the same time, Durkee was supporting her husband, who hadn’t worked in 15 years, according to the response.
This was not the case of a woman trying to defraud people to live a lavish lifestyle, Nixon asserted.
“Unfortunately, it spiraled out of control, she lost track of the amount of the shortfall and it ultimately reached a level that she will be unable to repay in her lifetime,” Nixon wrote.
Nixon nor Durkee disputed the sentence proposed in the Probation Office’s report.