SACRAMENTO, Calif. — 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 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, because Durkee has few assets.
“What she did had an impact on the political and electoral processes on which our democracy is based,” Judge 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.
Ms. Feinstein said she lost about $4.5 million in the scam, which 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 Mr. 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 buy some pleasure items such as season tickets to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Durkee is scheduled to surrender to U.S. marshals in Los Angeles on Jan. 2. She remains free on $200,000 bond.
Mr. 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 always has 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.”
In a statement read in court, U.S. Rep. Susan Davis 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, but Durkee’s plea deal called for a possible sentence of 11 to 14 years.