Berryhills lose in money-laundering trial

gstapley@modbee.comFebruary 7, 2014 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textGarth Stapley
    Title: Reporter
    Coverage areas: Regional water, growth, land-use and transportation; civil law, real estate fraud and special projects
    Bio: In his 19 years with The Bee, Garth Stapley has focused on city and county government
    E-mail: gstapley@modbee.com

Sen. Tom Berryhill and Republican committees in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties should be fined a combined $40,000 for laundering campaign money to Berryhill’s brother in 2008, an administrative law judge recommended.

“I think he got it wrong,” Jim DeMartini said of the judge’s decision, filed this week after a November trial. DeMartini is a Stanislaus County supervisor and leader of the county’s Republican Central Committee.

The last-minute financial boost helped Bill Berryhill win an Assembly seat 51/2 years ago, but complaints sparked an investigation by state ethics enforcers. The Berryhills insisted on a public trial in an attempt to clear their name, one of the Modesto area’s most powerful in political circles.

The ruling will not become public until March 5, a spokesman with the California Fair Political Practices Commission said Thursday. He would not discuss next steps. Typically, an administrative law judge’s recommendation is considered by the agency’s commissioners before penalties are levied.

The Berryhills served together in the Assembly, and Tom subsequently was elected to the state Senate while Bill lost a close Senate race in 2012. Their late father, Clare, was a legislator and state agriculture secretary.

Administrative Law Judge Jonathan Lew said Tom Berryhill must pay most of the penalty, said DeMartini, speaking from memory after a conference call with others connected to the case. He did not have particulars and referred inquiries to the camp’s attorney, who like Tom Berryhill did not respond Thursday or Friday.

DeMartini testified for about three hours at the trial.

Whether Bill Berryhill was implicated in the penalty recommendation could not immediately be determined.

California Fair Political Practices Commission prosecutors had sought penalties as high as $80,000.

Ethics enforcers said the brothers conspired with the central committees to illegally fund a television attack ad on Bill Berryhill’s 2008 opponent, Democrat John Eisenhut.

Tom Berryhill had hosted a fundraiser at the Del Rio home of the late Matt Bruno and soon after sent $20,000 each to Republican central committees in both counties. The committees immediately contributed like amounts to Bill Berryhill’s campaign, enabling his handlers to produce the ad.

Enforcers said Tom Berryhill already had given his brother the $3,600 maximum allowed under state law and knew that a single committee could not give Bill Berryhill more than $30,200. Funneling $40,000 through two committees provided the appearance of complying with campaign limits but ran afoul of another legal section preventing money laundering, or concealing the true donor’s identity, a prosecutor said.

The Berryhills did not dispute the money transfer. Neither did they claim that it was a big coincidence that the money from Tom ended up with Bill, who desperately needed it. They contended that a shell game is illegal only if the parties conspired to run it, and said they did not.

DeMartini said the central committees knew that Bill Berryhill faced a serious challenge and chose to support him when donations rolled in.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or (209) 578-2390.

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