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Calif. Dems Ask For Waivers After Embezzlement Scheme

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SACRAMENTO (AP) — Attorneys for Democratic candidates and committees trying to recover from an alleged embezzlement scheme appealed Friday to California’s political watchdog agency to relax financial reporting rules temporarily and waive some contribution limits.

The attorneys appeared before a meeting of the Fair Political Practices Commission in Sacramento as it considered options for candidates whose campaign accounts evaporated in the scandal involving longtime Democratic treasurer Kinde Durkee.

Durkee is charged with mail fraud and accused by federal prosecutors of siphoning $700,000 from the account of state Assemblyman Jose Solorio and targeting others, including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who estimates she may be missing as much as $5 million.

Investigators are trying to sort out who lost how much after entrusting their funds to Durkee & Associates.

Solorio’s attorney, Karen Getman, said the bank Durkee used, First California Bank, will not provide statements so candidates can determine whether they have any money left.

“We are victimized by Kinde Durkee, but we’re also being victimized by the bank, whose recalcitrance in doing anything to assist the victims of the Durkee crime has been just astonishing to us,” she said at the hearing.

The bank’s chief marketing officer, Diane Dickerson, did not immediately respond to phone messages left Friday.

Durkee controlled as many as 400 accounts, including some for nonprofits. A criminal complaint says she acknowledged misappropriating her clients’ money for years, using the funds to pay her credit cards, a mortgage, business bills and her mother’s care at an assisted-living facility.

She then shifted money from other candidates’ accounts to cover up the wrongdoing, federal prosecutors allege.

Durkee has not yet entered a plea and is due to appear in court Oct. 19. Her attorney, Daniel Nixon, has not returned calls seeking comment.

The embezzlement case came as many candidates head into difficult, potentially expensive campaigns in an unpredictable election year.

Candidates for state and congressional offices face newly redrawn political maps that could lead to tougher contests for many incumbents and possibly more competitive seats.

Stephen Kaufman, an attorney representing the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and several other Durkee clients, urged the FPPC to devise a clear process for candidates and committees who may not be able to recreate missing financial statements as the case winds through court — a process that could take years.

All of Durkee’s clients’ accounts have been frozen, so even if there is money in them, candidates cannot spend it.

The commission spotted the alleged fraud during a 2009 audit and notified the FBI, said Gary Winuk, chief of the FPPC’s enforcement division.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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