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The California campaign treasurer whose embezzlement scheme emptied the coffers of some of Congress’ most prominent Democrats was sentenced Wednesday to roughly eight years in prison by a federal judge in Sacramento.
Kinde Durkee, 59, will also pay $10.5 million in restitution to her former clients and will be subject to three years of supervised release after she serves her sentence. She has until Jan. 2 to surrender to authorities.
The case is believed to be the largest campaign embezzlement scandal to date.
Durkee pleaded guilty in March to five counts of mail fraud after the government found that between $7 million and $20 million was missing from the accounts of Durkee & Associates clients. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Reps. Loretta Sanchez , Linda T. Sánchez and Susan A. Davis, all California Democrats, were among those on Capitol Hill who lost money.
In a pre-sentencing memo filed with the court Tuesday, Durkee agreed that the sentence proposed by the government was a “just and appropriate” end to a decade-long scheme to cover her firm’s cash-flow problems by moving money in and out of client accounts that spiraled out of control.
“Unlike many other defendants, Ms. Durkee did not use the stolen funds to finance a lavish lifestyle,” her attorney wrote. “A great deal of the stolen funds were used to keep the business afloat and her employees employed. ... 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.”
Even so, the judge handling the sentencing described her behavior as an “egregious” violation of trust that hurt the democratic process.
Durkee, an Oakland, Calif., native, got her start in politics when she volunteered as a bookkeeper for George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign while at California State University. After that race ended, Durkee began working nearly full-time for a firm operated by the campaign’s treasurer while she completed her political science degree.
Over the years, as Durkee was given increasing amounts of responsibility, her stress level grew. At times, she covered for co-workers who made mistakes on campaign-finance filings and personally paid some of the fines that resulted from those mistakes as they accrued. When the firm’s proprietor died, Durkee thought about closing the company’s doors. Instead, she assumed the helm in 2000 and the business name changed to Durkee & Associates.
“The financial condition of Durkee & Associates deteriorated over time. 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,” her attorney wrote.
Durkee’s inclination to avoid confrontation also created problems within the company, the court filing noted.