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Get in Line to Sue|Jailed Campaign Manager

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A voting reform group joined a long list of citizens who claim in court that First California Bank aided and abetted the fraud of campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee.

National Popular Vote, a nonprofit, and the National Popular Vote Institute sued Durkee, the disgraced treasurer for dozens of political campaigns, and First California Bank, in Superior Court.

Durkee was charged in 2011 with embezzling at least $7 million from nearly 50 political clients. Durkee was sentenced in November 2012 to 8 years in prison and ordered to pay $10.5 million in restitution. She admitted stealing more than $7 million, but the judge totted up more than $10.5 million from 77 victims.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein's campaign fund was first in line to sue Durkee and First California Bank. Other campaign committees and politicians followed last year.

In virtually identical language to previous lawsuits, National Popular Vote claims that Durkee misappropriated more than $1 million from it to pay her personal expenses.

Durkee and her firm, Durkee & Associates (D&A) were helped by a single Los Angeles branch of First California Bank, which "was at the heart of the illegal transfer of money out of plaintiffs' accounts," National Popular Vote says in its complaint.

Durkee stole money to pay her personal credit card bills, her mortgage and business expenses, and to reimburse other campaign accounts from which she embezzled. She also spent ill-gotten gains on Baskin-Robbins ice cream and trips to Disneyland.

"Despite knowledge of this pervasive pattern of misconduct, First California Bank continued to provide banking services to Durkee and D&A for many years, happy to collect the fees and interest generated by the scores of accounts Durkee maintained at the bank," the complaint states. "FCB [First California Bank] made thousands of dollars each month from overdraft charges alone incurred on Durkee's accounts. Durkee was one of the most prominent clients of the Century Park East branch of First California Bank and the accounts she maintained at the bank were some of the largest accounts maintained at that branch office. It was therefore critical to the Century Park East branch of FCB to keep Durkee as a client."

National Popular Vote claims that Durkee made more than $1 million in unauthorized withdrawals from its accounts in June 2011 alone.

In August 2011, it allowed Durkee to pay herself expenses of $239,932: more than $1.6 million should have remained in the account, National Popular Vote said.

"Instead, the August 2011 statements produced after Durkee's arrest by First California Bank reveal a balance of only $86,831.74 for NPV [National Popular Vote] and only $888.38 for NPVI [National Popular Vote Institute]; a total balance of only $87,720.12, $1,520,034.64 less [than] should have been in the accounts according to Durkee's representations," according to the complaint.

It adds: "The staff and managers of that branch knew of Durkee and D&A's misconduct, yet allowed it to continue, and assisted in it, because the accounts Durkee and D&A handled held millions of dollars and generated thousands of dollars in transaction and overdraft fees for the bank. Durkee ensured the branch's cooperation by lavishing the bank with profits."

Named as defendants are First California Bank, Durkee & Associates LLC, Durkee and Forgy, John Shallman and Shallman Communications.

The nonprofit seeks compensatory and punitive damages for fraud, conversion, breach of contract, bad faith, aiding and abetting and unjust enrichment.

"Unlike other victims of Durkee, Shallman appears to have withdrawn most of its funds - including the funds illegally transferred by Durkee from plaintiffs' accounts to Shallman - prior to Durkee's arrest. Accordingly, plaintiffs seek the return from Shallman of the money illegally transferred from plaintiffs' accounts to Shallman," the complaint states.

When Durkee was sentenced to prison and ordered to pay $10.5 million in restitution, she had only about $91,000 in the bank, according to contemporary news reports.

National Popular Vote is a Los Altos-based advocate for a system to keep the Electoral College intact, but guaranteeing the presidency to the candidate who wins the national popular vote.

It is represented by Justin Berger with Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy of Burlingame.

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