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Feds seek eight years for campaign embezzler

Federal prosecutors say Democratic campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee should serve eight years and one month in federal prison for having embezzled more than $7 million from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other prominent California elected officials.

Durkee, 59, of Long Beach, is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday in Sacramento.

“Over the course of approximately 12 years, the defendant misappropriated millions of dollars from clients, used the money for her personal and business expenses, and prepared false campaign disclosure reports to hide the theft,” says the sentencing memo prosecutors filed last Wednesday. “This sentence will reflect the seriousness of the offense, provide just punishment, and afford adequate deterrence.”

A restitution figure should be ready by Wednesday’s hearing, prosecutors wrote.

Durkee pleaded guilty earlier this year to five counts of mail fraud. Her plea agreement noted that the sentencing range would be from 11 years and three months to 14 years, but also that prosecutors would recommend the low end of whatever range federal probation officers came up with.

Besides Feinstein’s campaign, other victims included the campaigns of Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Garden Grove; Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Cerritos; state Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana; and Assemblyman Jose Solorio, D-Anaheim. There were at least 50 victims in all, prosecutors said.

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Campaign finance: Arnold, Anthem & much more

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s California Dream Team ballot measure committee put $500,000 last Friday to the campaign for Proposition 14, the “top-two” open primary measure forced onto the ballot by state Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, now Schwarzenegger’s nominee for lieutenant governor – and a measure wildly unpopular with both the Republican and Democratic establishments. A day earlier, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings gave $257,328.40 to support the measure.

Palo Alto physicist Charles T. Munger Jr., son of Warren Buffett’s billionaire investor partner, last Tuesday put another $370,500 into his “Voters First Act for Congress” ballot measure, bringing his total out of pocket since October to just over $3.1 million. The proposed constitutional amendment would remove authority for setting California’s 53 Congressional district boundaries from the state Legislature, and would give that authority instead to the same Citizens Redistricting Commission that will soon be setting state Legislative boundaries (as required by 2008’s successful Proposition 11). He’s the only major donor to the campaign, and had until last Monday to gather and submit 694,354 registered voters’ valid signatures; county voter registrars and the Secretary of State’s office are now in the process of verifying them.

Anthem Blue Cross has been the target of a lot of political scorn since it announced insurance premium hikes of up to 39 percent a few months ago, but it’s still doling out money in Sacramento: The insurer last Thursday gave $2,000 to Garrett Yee, a Demcoratic primary candidate in the East Bay’s 20th Assembly District (the seat from which Alberto Torrico is term-limited out this year); $1,900 to incumbent Assemblyman Jose Solorio, D-Santa Ana; and $1,000 to incumbent Assemblyman Bill Berryhill, R-Ceres.

Republican gubernatorial candidate and state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner put another $196,680 into his own campaign last Monday, bringing his total out-of-pocket spending to $19,396,680 so far.

Former state Senate President Pro Tem and current Oakland mayoral candidate Don Perata’s Hope 2010 ballot measure committee last Tuesday put another $40,000 into Californians for a Cure, the committee formed by the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association and American Heart Association to support the proposed tobacco-tax-for-cancer-research measure Perata helped author. This brings Hope 2010’s total ante to $320,000 so far. They have until May 17 to gather valid signatures from at least 433,971 registered voters in order to place the measure on November’s ballot.

Former state Controller and 2006 Democratic gubernatorial primary candidate Steve Westly gave $5,000 last Wednesday to Californians for a Fresh Start, the committee pushing a proposed ballot measure for November that would replace the separate eight- and six-year term limits on future state Senators and Assemblymembers, respectively, with a 12-year limit on combined service in either or both chambers. The lion’s share of that measure’s financial backing (at least about $871,000 so far) has come from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor AFL-CIO.

On the celebrity watch, television producer (“Alias,” “Lost”) and movie director (“Cloverfield,” “Star Trek”) J.J. Abrams and wife Katie McGrath of Pacific Palisades – who gave $50,000 last November to state Attorney General Jerry Brown’s gubernatorial campaign – gave $13,000 last week to Democratic state Attorney General candidate Kamala Harris’ campaign. Harris’ campaign also picked up $1,000 last Wednesday from San Francisco Giants former president and general managing partner Peter Magowan.

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Bill to help exonerees shrunk by budget crunch

Money is being stripped out of a bill aimed at doing right by those wrongfully convicted of crimes in California, even as this year’s legislative clock ticks down.

AB 2937, authored by Assemblyman Jose Solorio, D-Santa Ana, has until Aug. 7 to make it through this session, and the Assembly passed it on a 64-2 vote back in May, but the state Senate Appropriations Committee voted 14-0 on July 7 to place the bill in its suspense file — a holding place for bills carrying a price tag of $150,000 or more.

That’s because the bill would’ve raised the compensation paid to exonerees. Under current law, a claimant would be awarded $100 per day of prison confinement, or $36,500 per year; it’s the same amount for people who sat on death row. This bill would have increased the prison-confinement amount to $50,000 per year, or about $137 per day; for those who were on death row, it would have increased the pay to $100,000 per year, or about $274 per day.

From the Senate Appropriations Committee summary:

“The average annual claim paid from the General Fund is $671,380 for the years 2002-2006. The Legislature did not approve a claim of $74,600 for David Jones in 2007. This bill would provide for a 37% increase of the amount paid per day of prison confinement. Thus, the state would expect to pay about $250,000 more each year in claims. Since none of the claims in recent history has involved a death row inmate, there would be significant, but unknown costs. If a person had been on death row for 20 years, he or she could claim approximately $2,000,200 under this provision.

“In addition, this bill would extend the timeframe in which a person may file a claim from 6 months to 2 years after his or her exoneration date. This could lead to additional claims filed.”

Now former state Attorney General John Van de Kamp, chairman of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, which made the recommendations on which this bill is based, says raising the compensation is basically off the table for this year “simply because of the budget situation.”

“We’re trying to do whatever possible to limit the costs so they can get it out,” he told me this afternoon. “We’re not getting even close to 100 percent of what we’d like, but it’s a start.”

The Commission in February issued a report recommending remedies for wrongful conviction, and the stripped-down bill still includes some of those suggestions, Van de Kamp said. For example, it would amend state law so that people who were coerced into giving false confessions aren’t excluded from compensation; it would require that exonerated people’s criminal records automatically be sealed; and it would require counties to offer exonerated people or those released due to reversal of their convictions the same community re-entry services provided to parolees.

Van de Kamp said Solorio’s office and supporters including the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California are working closely with Appropriations Committee staffers to get the bill out of the suspense file; one legislative staffer told me today he’s “unable” to gauge the chances of success.