Local Dem Politicians Get Campaign Funds Back

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First California Bank has agreed to pay $4 million to Democratic politicians, including three from Orange County, who were the victims of a multi-million dollar campaign fund embezzlement scam run by their treasurer, Kinde Durkee.

Victims of the campaign fund embezzlement included U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) and former Assemblyman and current state Senate candidate Jose Solorio. For years, Kindee was the campaign treasurer for a host of state Democratic campaigns.

“It was a real betrayal of trust,” Correa said of the embezzlement. He said he is seeking advice from the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission on how his share of the funds stolen from past campaign accounts may legally be used for future political efforts.

Pro-rated shares from the settlement will be returned to campaign accounts within the next few weeks. Solario likely will get his share in time to help pay for his November Senate race against Republican Supervisor Janet Nguyen.

Santa Ana attorney Wylie Aitken, who serves as chairman of the board of directors for Voice of OC, represented several area politicians, including Correa and Sanchez, in the civil suit against First California Bank.

Aitken said the bank was “very culpable” noting that for years Kindee brazenly moved large amounts of money between federal and state bank accounts in violation of regulations and was allowed by the bank to write numerous checks on accounts that didn’t have the money to cover them because she had illegally removed it. Days or weeks later she would take money from other accounts to cover the checks.

In spite of the warning signals, Aitken said, the bank didn’t alert the candidates about what was going on.

Bank statements showing the transfers went directly to Durkee, not the candidates. In turn, she created documents she sent to candidates that correctly showed the amounts that should have been in campaign accounts, but wasn’t.

First California Bank was acquired last year by PacWest Bancorp. Both banks are based in Los Angeles County. A spokesperson didn’t return a call for comment on the settlement.

Lawyers for both sides reached the settlement July 15 ahead of a scheduled hearing before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu M. Berle.

Durkee currently is serving an eight-year federal prison sentence and is under court order to repay $10.7 million she stole from a total of 77 candidate campaign accounts. She pleaded guilty in 2012 to five counts of mail fraud.

“She has no money,” said Aitken. “She’s in federal prison.” Federal officials sold off the few assets she had after spending the stolen campaign funds. The bulk of the embezzled money was spent during the years she was treasurer for the campaigns.

Settlement funds, Aitken stressed, will be returned to campaign accounts and not to the personal use of the candidates.

It isn’t clear exactly how much each campaign account will receive as a result of the settlement because the money will be divided in proportion to how much each account lost, minus attorney fees and other expenses.

The $4 million is about half of the estimated $8 million embezzled from candidates who were part of the lawsuit. Feinstein lost the most, more than $4 million. Correa lost about $800,000. Solorio, who could get back about $300,000 less fees and expenses, and Feinstein are represented by attorney Joseph Cotchett of Burlingame.

Please contact Tracy Wood directly at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/tracyVOC.

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