A federal judge Wednesday ordered prison and fines for Kinde Durkee, the former Democratic campaign treasurer who admitted taking more than $7 million from candidates across the state, including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller said Durkee, 59, a Long Beach resident who maintained her headquarters in Burbank, tampered with the electoral process. She ordered Durkee, described by prosecutors as the "Bernie Madoff" of campaign treasurers, to serve 8 years and 1 month in federal prison and pay $10.5 million in fines.
Durkee's acts disrupted campaigns - big and small - across California. She pleaded guilty to five counts of mail fraud in March.
During Wednesday's sentencing hearing the Associated Press reported that 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, Durkee apologized in court to "those who trusted me and I betrayed. I take full and complete responsibility for what I've done."
Federal court documents indicate Durkee used the pilfered campaign cash to pay bills - and created a sort of Ponzi scheme that allowed her to fund campaigns with money raised by other candidates.
Court documents, filed by her attorney Daniel Nixon, indicate the federal government believes Durkee may have defrauded more than 80 clients.
"Ms. Durkee contends that two of those listed (Wendy Gruel for Mayor 2013 and Pasadena Area United Democratic HQ Federal) were not victims," Nixon wrote in a Nov. 7 court filing. "The majority of the total loss amount in this case is attributable to a group of victims numbering far fewer than fifty."
Altadena resident Steve Lamb said on his Facebook page Wednesday that he knew Durkee.
"She attempted to get me to run for elected office on a couple of occasions so she could run my campaign," Lamb wrote. "I asked her what she charged. It was about 30 percent of what everybody else charges."
Lamb said he instantly became suspicious of Durkee and "did not believe her because the price was too low."
"Now if I knew that, these full-time lifetime Democratic Party politicians should have known that," Lamb said. "They got a lot of something for nearly nothing. I bet if we added it up her so called "embezzlement (it) still doesn't get her to what everyone else charges. That's the real story here. They took advantage of this woman, who the judge even realizes and - I did as soon as I met her - has psychological problems."
Durkee's clients included Reps. Linda Sanchez, D-Cerritos, and Laura Richardson, D-Long Beach, along with Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster and City Council members Suja Lowenthal and Patrick O'Donnell.
Pasadena City Councilman Chris Holden and Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, also were clients of Durkee's at one time, according to court and campaign documents.
Los Angeles political consultant John Shallman, who has estimated in lawsuits that he lost $1 million as a result of Durkee's actions, had no comment on the sentencing.
Sanchez was tied up in leadership meetings for the new Congress and unavailable for comment. The congresswoman, elected to a sixth term this month, was one of the hardest hit by the Durkee scandal.
Sanchez's Federal Election Commission reports listed $207,236 cash on hand Dec. 31, though she reported raising $623,003 in 2011. She spent $110,133 that year. Matched against her available funds, the discrepancy totaled $305,634.
In his heavily redacted court filing, Nixon agreed with prosecutors that Durkee ran a complex scheme from her office, shifting millions of dollars among bank accounts for politicians, community groups, personal accounts and those of her business, Durkee & Associates.
"Although Ms. Durkee intended to repay the funds it quickly spiraled out of control and reached a level she will not be able to repay in her lifetime," Nixon wrote, explaining Durkee used the money to buy food and clothing, pay her mortgage and pay for her parents' assisted living care.
A significant amount of the money went to keep Durkee's office running, Nixon said.
Prosecutors claimed Durkee used money from Feinstein's account to cover losses in other campaign accounts, including those of Sanchez, Richardson, Inland Empire congressional candidate Russ Warner and Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougney.
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.
Durkee's fees were cheaper than a lot of her competitors, so she stole funds to make up the costs, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner told the Associated Press.
She was a poor business manager who deliberately defrauded her clients for more than a decade, as well as duping the state Fair Political Practices Commission and the Federal Election Commission, Wagner said.
"Ms. Durkee repeatedly lied to clients, lied to the FPPC, lied to a lot of people, lied to the FEC about what was in the accounts, so it was very deliberate over time," he said.
In a statement read in court, Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, said she felt personally betrayed by Durkee, who took nearly $160,000 from her congressional campaign account, and that Durkee owed an apology to thousands of donors whose faith in democracy is now shaken.
Davis said Durkee had hurt "the reputation of our state and its political infrastructure."
The crimes could have carried a maximum penalty of 100 years, and Durkee's plea deal called for a possible sentence of 11 to 14 years.
The judge followed the prosecutors' recommendation of 97 months for each of the five counts, to be served concurrently, although she said she considered imposing a longer term.
The scheme was uncovered by investigators with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, who noticed discrepancies in the filings for Assemblyman Jose Solorio, D-Santa Ana, and asked the FBI for assistance. The state lawmaker lost at least $677,000 to Durkee, according to the criminal complaint.
"The ending cash balance reported in the forms was vastly higher than what was actually in the campaign account," Wagner wrote in a March 27 court filing.
Solario's money was used to make up for losses in the accounts of Sanchez and Davis, Wagner wrote.
The Associated Press and Staff Writers Rick Orlov and Eric Bradley contributed to this story.