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It Takes a Thief

September 12th, 2011 - 7:26 pm

The phrase “it takes a thief to catch a thief” is believed to have originated in 17th century England to express the belief that only a person with criminal instincts could anticipate one of his own kind. The idea lives on in the concept of the serial killer profiler, immortalized by the fictional Hannibal Lecter, whose twisted mind is tapped by the FBI to aid them in catching other human monsters.

But why would seasoned politicians entrust their money to a known shady operator and run the risk of having it stolen from them, as campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee may have done to a growing number of Democratic Party stalwarts? NBC Los Angeles reports that Diane Feinstein, who had $5 million in her campaign fund the last time she looked, was “wiped out” by Durkee. “Feinstein is one of an unknown number of elected officials who allegedly lost money courtesy a Democratic campaign accountant named Kinde Durkee.” The list of victims appears to be growing.

Reps. Susan Davis and Loretta Sanchez, now appear to victims as well. … Davis is missing more than $250,000 from her reelection committee. Loretta Sanchez has already declared her $379,000 campaign war chest was “nearly wiped out” by Kindee. The Los Angeles County Democratic Party reported that it lost at least $200,000, while California Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D) may be out as much as $677,000.

And Durkee had access to more than 400 accounts, so the tale of loss may run into the hundreds of millions. But as the Los Angeles Times reports,  if politicians were willing to trust her it must have been in despite of the common knowledge that she played fast and loose with accounts. She was known as the most crooked knife on the block. “None have such an extensive history of violations.”

Although many Democratic insiders said they were shocked by Durkee’s arrest, it was far from the first sign of trouble. When the FBI launched its investigation into Durkee in January, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office and the state Fair Political Practices Commission were already probing Durkee’s use of campaign funds.

Over the last decade Durkee had racked up $185,860 in fines from the Fair Political Practices Commission in eight different cases, a sum that FPPC Chairwoman Ann Ravel said points to “quite serious” issues.

There are only a few other campaign treasurers in California who, like Durkee, deal with a large number of clients. None have such an extensive history of violations, Ravel said.

“This is an anomaly — I don’t believe that we have seen a case of this magnitude,” she said.

The San Francisco Chronicle says that Durkee was “finally arrested” years after it ran an expose of her fake “Californians for Obama” campaign that scooped up thousands of dollars from “unsuspecting donors”.

Prominent Democratic campaign treasurer Kindee Durkee was finally arrested by the FBI this weekend — more than four years after the Chronicle reported complaints that she was involved in a fake “Californians for Obama” campaign that ripped off unsuspecting donors.

The Orange County Register reported Saturday she was arrested by the FBI on Saturday on suspicion of mail fraud.

Durkee was listed as treasurer for a “California for Obama” campaign that sold itself as raising money for the campaign of then-Senator Barack Obama. It scooped up thousands in checks from Californians through promotions ranging from celebrity-studded cruises to campaign office “grand openings,” the Chronicle reported in July 2007.

Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton told the Chronicle at the time the effort was entirely unauthorized, and the campaign issued a harsh cease-and-desist-warning to Emmett Cash III, the former movie mogul who worked with Durkee on the San Bernardino-based campaign.

It seems almost inconceivable that Feinstein would not have been aware of shady dealings bannered by the San Francisco Chronicle. Indeed, as an NBC blog put it, “the most telling thing about the FBI’s arrest of a longtime campaign treasurer on suspicion of fraud is that none of the politicians who appear to be the fraud’s victims are expressing shock, at least publicly.” Maybe they haven’t expressed shock, though unnamed Democratic “insiders” have. Maybe they’re not as inside as they think.

One possible reason for the lack of concern over the moral probity of the custodian, according to the NBC blog, is that campaign money is meant to disappear or be used in ill-defined ways. “That point is: if campaigns were businesses, they would be the type of businesses that would be easy to rob.”

What a cruel suggestion. One would think that political campaigns were operated by criminal syndicates, instead of by fine, upstanding public servants, who when robbed would never call the police lest the investigation should lead to questions about how the money was acquired in the first place. In that case the lack of  integrity would be an absolute prerequisite for handling shady funds, and  would be like saying “it takes a thief to handle dirty money”.

Then why the beef? Why is  Durkee after so many years of apparently satisfactory service now facing charges? Perhaps some line was crossed, some understanding betrayed; at any rate the campaign money of a lot of Democratic campaign money has now gone missing.  A cynic might think that the Durkee case would be a great way to account for the loss of a lot of funds.  There the trail ends in that black hole and of that money nothing more was ever known.

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