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California

Political ethics panel accuses brothers of money laundering

SACRAMENTO — State authorities have accused two brothers who served together as Republican legislators of illegally laundering $40,000 in political donations.

State Sen. Tom Berryhill (R-Modesto) and former Assemblyman Bill Berryhill (R-Ceres), grape farmers who represented adjacent legislative districts, allegedly funneled the money through two county Republican central committees to skirt contribution limits.

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An administrative law judge will decide whether the men are guilty of charges drafted by the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

The charges focus on the 2008 election, in which both brothers won Assembly races. State law limited the amount Tom Berryhill could contribute directly to his brother’s campaign to $3,600, but Bill Berryhill’s campaign needed extra help in a tight race, according to the accusation written by commission staff.

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The contribution limits do not apply to money raised and spent by party central committees.

Tom Berryhill’s campaign allegedly used money from one of his fundraisers to donate $20,000 to the Stanislaus County Republican Central Committee and an equal sum to the San Joaquin County Republican Central Committee. Those two groups donated the same amounts to Bill Berryhill’s campaign on the day they received the money.

“Most of the money that respondent Tom Berryhill raised for his own committee as a result of that fundraiser wound up being laundered to his brother’s committee through the central committees,” the accusation says. “The primary purpose of the fundraiser was to help Bill Berryhill get elected.”

Charles H. Bell Jr., an attorney for Tom Berryhill and the two central committees, denied that the brothers acted improperly.

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“Tom Berryhill made lawful contributions to the two central committees at the end of the election,” Bell said. “The central committees made lawful contributions to Bill Berryhill’s campaign, as the parties are permitted to do without limit.”

The two politicians and two committees have been accused of 16 administrative charges of violating campaign finance laws. The Fair Political Practices Commission’s chief of enforcement, Gary Winuk, has recommended that they be fined a combined total of $80,000.

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com


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