Californian politicians' cash-minder arrested for scam

By Guy Adams

Kinde Durkee. Photo / Supplied
Kinde Durkee. Photo / Supplied

She is being described as "the Bernie Madoff of campaign finance". No one knows how long her apparent scam had been running, or how much money may be missing.

But some people say they have been "nearly wiped out".

Kinde Durkee, a political consultant who organised financial affairs for dozens of California's top Democrats, has been arrested and charged with stealing millions of dollars from their campaign war chests for next year's elections.

The money, including large donations from leading figures in the Hollywood community, is believed to have paid for Durkee's comfortable lifestyle.

Some was supposedly used to pay off credit card bills, more covered mortgage payments and nursing home fees for her elderly mother.

New victims are emerging daily. They include Senator Dianne Feinstein, whose office staff say they "don't know right now" what has become of US$5.2 million ($6.4 million), and San Diego congresswoman Susan Davis, who wrote a letter to supporters yesterday saying "we have been robbed".

Davis believes at least US$250,000 is missing from her campaign's bank accounts.

"As this scandal emerges, she [Durkee] may well become known as the Bernie Madoff of campaign finance treasurers," Davis wrote in her letter.

Prosecutors say Durkee was considered the "go-to" accountant for California Democrats because of her knowledge of federal and state finance laws.

Her company, which had been established for more than 15 years, served much of California's Democratic establishment.

At the time of her arrest this month, she is believed to have boasted of having access to more than 400 bank accounts holding tens of millions of dollars in campaign cash.

In a criminal complaint filed in Sacramento this week, prosecutors said that Durkee, 58, "admitted that she had been misappropriating clients' money for years".

She apparently covered her tracks by shuffling money between different accounts to give clients the impression that their finances remained sound.

In fact, they say, she was siphoning off cash for her own use. Most was used to cover big expenses such as her mortgage and care-home fees. Smaller amounts were used to settle bills at Amazon, and the icecream store Baskin Robbins, where the rotund Durkee appears to be a regular client.

Auditors say it could take years to discover how much has been lost.

The FBI raided Durkee's offices in Burbank, just north of Los Angeles, after being alerted to irregularities in the bank accounts of Jose Solorio, a state assemblyman who lost about US$600,000.

They subsequently noticed that she had been fined US$190,000 for 11 minor breaches of financial reporting laws in the past decade.

Other victims include the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, which is missing about US$200,000. Big donors whose money is presumed lost in the scam range from film studios, Sony, Universal, Warner Brothers and Disney, to Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

Robert Iger, the head of Disney, and Ron Meyer, of Universal, were also named as the sources of private donations which may have been embezzled.

Durkee has been freed on US$200,000 bail, and is next due in court next month. Independent

- NZ Herald

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