Published March 28, 2012
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A longtime California Democratic campaign treasurer embezzled at least $7 million from as many as 50 clients including politicians, local officials and other political entities in a scheme that continued for more than 10 years, according to a new court filing by federal prosecutors.
Kinde Durkee, who spent two decades working for scores of campaigns in California and was Sen. Dianne Feinstein's campaign treasurer, was charged with five new counts of mail fraud in the court filing late Tuesday.
The filing alleges that Durkee altered campaign finance reports to intentionally defraud the clients of her Burbank-based firm, Durkee and Associates.
It details how since 2000 Durkee had allegedly taken check after check meant for the accounts of her political clients and used them for her own personal and business expenses.
In one example, Durkee reportedly took a $23,000 check made out to Feinstein's campaign and used it to pay an American Express bill that included charges to Amazon.com, Trader Joe's, Disneyland and the Los Angeles Dodgers, among other things.
Durkee also reportedly used Feinstein's campaign funds to pay for her mortgage, phone bill, and expenses for her employees.
Feinstein was only one of the multiple political clients listed in the filing, which says there were at least 50 victims of the fraud whose losses exceed $7 million.
It is also possible the figures reported in the filing may be a low estimate. The filing claims Durkee's company had access to at least 700 bank accounts, and more losses may be uncovered in later civil cases.
Feinstein has previously stated she lost about $4.7 million from her campaign accounts in the fraud, and cut a $5 million check to her own campaign to cover the losses.
"This was a very hard thing for me," Feinstein has said. "When you trust someone and this happens, it’s sort of like a knife being put in your back and twisted because you have that trust."
In addition to Feinstein, Durkee served as treasurer for Congresswomen Loretta Sanchez, Linda Sanchez, Laura Richardson, Susan Davis and other state and local officials and grassroots Democratic organizations.
Rep. Susan Davis, who previously claimed she lost up to $250,000 in Durkee's scheme, called Durkee the "Bernie Madoff of campaign finance treasurers" in an email to supporters in September.
Rep. Linda Sanchez previously reported losses of $322,000, with her sister Rep. Loretta Sanchez reporting a $125,000 loss.
The court filing only adds to speculation that Durkee may be preparing to enter a plea bargain in the case, as such filings usually indicate a plea bargain is looming.
Earlier Tuesday, Politico reported Durkee was planning to plead guilty to five counts of fraud, and that prosecutors will recommend she receive 11 to 14 years in prison. Neither prosecutors nor Durkee's lawyers have confirmed that report.
Durkee is expected to appear in court Friday afternoon at a hearing that had been scheduled before Tuesday's developments.
Despite Davis' "Madoff" characterization, reports that have emerged of Durkee indicate she wasn't living a lavish lifestyle similar to that of the disgraced Ponzi schemer.
Reports claimed Durkee's house in a nice upper middle-class neighborhood was the only one that didn't have a nice green lawn, and both the house and the old car out front were in need of repair.
In a separate order filed Monday, the U.S. attorney's office and Durkee agreed to a forfeiture auction of her Burbank home, which it says she owns with her husband, John Forgy. The couple owes $671,000 on the house, as well as $17,471 in state tax liens, according to the filing.
Fox News' Lee Ross and The Associated Press contributed to this report.