A former California campaign treasurer pleaded guilty Friday to looting at least $7 million from the accounts of dozens of Democratic candidates and political organizations, in one of the nation's most egregious political embezzlement cases.
Kinde Durkee, who had operated Durkee & Associates of Burbank until her arrest last September, entered the plea to five counts of mail fraud in U.S. District Court in Sacramento. The plea deal carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in federal prison.
It ended a criminal case that left numerous state and federal candidates with little or no money in their campaign accounts, heading into an election year in which they face newly drawn districts and a new primary system.
Durkee, 59, now faces civil lawsuits from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who believes she may have lost as much as $5 million, and other victims.
San Diego Rep. Susan Davis accused Durkee in September 2011of stealing $250,000 from her campaign.
Davis called Durkee the "Bernie Madoff of campaign finance treasurers."
The filing details a complex shell game in which Durkee shifted campaign money to cover an array of personal and business expenses.
In one example, $23,000 taken from Feinstein's account was used to help pay American Express credit card charges from the Los Angeles Dodgers, Amazon.com, Disneyland, Trader Joe's and Turners Outdoorsman.
Other misappropriations from Feinstein's account covered payments for a Long Beach condominium owned by Durkee and to the 401(k) plan for her employees.
The court filing said Durkee had devised a scheme from January 2000 until she was arrested last September "to defraud clients of Durkee & Associates, and to obtain money from them by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises."
It said she had signature control over roughly 700 bank accounts, including those used by political campaigns.
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