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Campaign accountant held in theft of funds

Kinde Durkee, who worked with prominent Democrats, allegedly stole hundreds of thousands from a political account belonging to Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-Santa Ana).

September 07, 2011|By Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times
  • A Burbank accountant is charged with transferring hundreds of thousands of dollars from the campaign account of Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-Santa Ana) without his permission.
A Burbank accountant is charged with transferring hundreds of thousands… (Associated Press )

A Burbank accountant who has worked as a campaign treasurer for many prominent California Democrats is accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the election fund of Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-Santa Ana), according to a criminal complaint released Tuesday.

Kinde Durkee, head of Durkee & Associates, was arrested Friday afternoon at her firm's Burbank office on a federal charge of mail fraud, a move that shocked many of her longtime clients, who include numerous federal, state and local elected officials. She made her first court appearance Tuesday afternoon in Los Angeles.

According to an affidavit accompanying the criminal complaint, Durkee took money from her clients' bank accounts and filed false campaign reports to cover up her actions.

Among other items, Durkee allegedly used funds taken from her clients' accounts to pay off credit card bills for trips to Disneyland and the Long Beach Aquarium, as well as for personal mortgage payments and business expenses.

When interviewed by FBI agents, Durkee "admitted that she had been misappropriating her clients' money for years and that the forms she filed with the state were false," the affidavit says.

The mail fraud charge stems from the alleged filing of falsified campaign reports.

Durkee's attorney, Daniel V. Nixon, said he expects her to enter a not-guilty plea but declined to discuss the complaint. A call to the Durkee & Associates office was not returned.

The complaint alleges that in two separate transactions in October 2010, Durkee transferred funds totaling $677,181 from an account belonging to the Solorio for Assembly 2010 committee to a Durkee & Associates business account without Solorio's permission or knowledge. The withdrawals were not reported on disclosure forms filed with the state.

The expenditures listed in the complaint included a total of $55,000 in checks written to Durkee & Associates marked "payroll." An additional $17,533 went to pay American Express bills that included charges at Baskin-Robbins and a Disneyland restaurant and the purchase of Amazon.com gift cards, while $4,950 went to help pay expenses for Durkee's mother at an assisted-living facility.

Solorio declined to comment when reached by phone, but issued a statement saying, "I want to thank the FBI for their diligence in bringing this criminal complaint forward. I hope this unfortunate situation is resolved quickly and everyone involved gets their money back."

Lauren Horwood, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Sacramento, said the case may broaden to include activity involving the accounts of Durkee's other clients, but she could not say how many other victims there might be. She said prosecutors are not looking at any other potential defendants.

The FBI investigation stemmed from a referral from the Fair Political Practices Commission, which launched an investigation of Durkee after finding her in violation on an unrelated case, in which she and client Jerome Horton were fined $13,000 for failing to refund contributions after he ran unsuccessfully for the state Board of Equalization in 2006 and failing to properly identify the sender of three mass mailings.

Durkee, who remains in custody, was ordered to return Friday for a bail hearing.

abby.sewell@latimes.com

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