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California Embezzlement Case Might Touch Many Campaigns

Updated: 10:31 p.m.

A campaign treasurer who has handled the finances of top California Democrats will remain in custody until she next appears in a federal courtroom on Friday, following an initial brief appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jay C. Gandhi late Tuesday.

Kinde S. Durkee was arrested Sept. 2 on suspicion that she used her role as treasurer and bookkeeper at Durkee & Associates to siphon more than $600,000 from the election campaign of California Assemblyman Jose Solorio to pay for an array of personal expenses.

Federal prosecutors allege that Durkee, over the past year, deposited at least two cashier’s checks from a Solorio for Assembly money market account that totaled about $677,000 into her own business account without the lawmaker’s knowledge. The funds covered payments Durkee later made to her credit card company, employees and an assisted-living facility for her mother, among other expenses, according to the criminal complaint.

Solorio did not know the funds were missing until being questioned by the FBI, as Durkee repeatedly filed reports with the California secretary of state that did not reflect the transfers, reporting cash on hand far in excess of the funds that remained in the account. 

Though the criminal inquiry focuses on money taken from the Solorio campaign, bank records reviewed by the FBI showed that Durkee had signature authority on more than 400 client bank accounts. It was unclear Tuesday whether or to what extent Durkee’s other clients had been exposed to fraud.

The Congressional campaign committees currently managed by Durkee reported a combined total of almost $1.3 million in their bank accounts as of the end of June, according to Federal Election Committee filings, meaning nearly a dozen campaigns will have to confirm the funds are still available given Durkee’s filing of fictitious cash-on-hand figures in Solorio’s accounts.

Among California Democratic campaigns that were clients of Durkee are those of Rep. Susan Davis, which reported more than $456,000 in cash reserves. Meanwhile, Rep. Loretta Sanchez should have almost $379,000 in available funds, while her sister Rep. Linda Sánchez was reported to have nearly $277,000.

Candidate Russ Warner (D), running against Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) next year, reported having more than $78,000 in cash on hand. Durkee’s reports could also have repercussions for nearly 50 political action committees, whose most recent forms this year state they have almost $340,000 in reserve.

Transactions with the campaigns to re-elect Loretta Sanchez and Davis were described in the complaint. Portions of the $677,000 drawn from the Solorio account appear to have covered two checks to the Sanchez campaign for $125,000 and $45,000. A similar check for $40,000 was made payable to the Davis campaign. It was unclear Tuesday whether the money actually reached the lawmakers.

Sanchez Chief of Staff Adrienne Elrod said her staff is “in the process of assessing the damage and removing Durkee and Associates from any and all of our campaign activities.”

Davis’ office did not respond to a request for comment.

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