CITYWIDE — The owner of an accounting firm that provided services for several political campaigns in Santa Monica appeared in federal court Tuesday on charges of taking almost $700,000 from a California candidate’s coffers.

Kinde Durkee, of Durkee & Associates, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jay C. Gandhi at 2 p.m. at the Roybal Federal Building, but remains in custody until her next hearing on Friday.

She was arrested in her office on Friday by the FBI on charges of mail fraud.

According to a federal complaint released Tuesday, Durkee took out two cashier’s checks worth $300,000 and $377,181.24 respectively from the money market account of Solorio for Assembly 2010, a political action committee established for State Assembly candidate Jose Solorio.

The two checks were then deposited in accounts for Durkee & Associates, but the withdrawals were never reflected in reports to the California Secretary of State.

So, rather than the $729,135 that Durkee claimed was in the account, Solorio for Assembly 2010 had only $33,175, bank records show.

The rest of the money was used to make payroll for members of her staff, as well as to pay Durkee’s own mortgage, $50,000 for taxes, her mother’s assisted-living facility and merchandise at Ariel’s Grotto in Disneyland.

According to the complaint, Durkee admitted to agents that she had “personal and business tax problems.”

Other purchases included cosmetics, airfare, gift certificates and clothes.

Durkee also transferred money to other candidate accounts under her control, including the Committee to Re-elect Loretta Sanchez and Beth Krom for Congress.

Durkee, who worked as the treasurer on numerous campaigns in Santa Monica including that of Santa Monicans for Quality Government and Friends of Santa Monica College, had control over 400 different accounts.

Lauren Horwood, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento, Calif., said the investigation is expected to result in additional charges.

Durkee’s office, located in Burbank, Calif., did not return a call for comment.

This isn’t the first time Durkee has run afoul of enforcement agencies.

The California Fair Political Practices Committee has documented multiple infractions, including a $104,500 fine for failing to report payments made to subvendors, expenses and money paid to Durkee & Associates during Steve Westly’s gubernatorial campaign.

Locally, Durkee worked on the 2010 Santa Monicans for Quality Government campaign that came under local heat from another group, Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City, for filing financial disclosure statements past the deadline.

She’s also served as treasurer for Friends of Santa Monica College’s 2006 effort to elect members to the College Board and City Councilmember Terry O’Day’s election campaign.

The news came as a surprise to some of those that she’d worked with.

“I am concerned. I am disappointed,” O’Day said. “I am filing requests and trying to figure out the disposition of the funds that I have, and the balance remaining in the account.”

O’Day said that he’s received many references for Durkee’s services.

“I just hope that not too many people were hurt by this,” he said.

Fred Huebscher, the political consultant that headed up the Quality Government campaign, said that he hadn’t noticed any funds going out of his own coffers, but that only time would tell.

“I don’t know how she operated, or how the alleged embezzlement took place,” Huebscher said.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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