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Judge wants GOP political Berryhill brothers fined for campaign violations
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SACRAMENTO,   (AP) — Two brothers should be fined for illegally transferring money between their campaigns in 2008 when both were running for separate seats in the state Assembly in 2008, an administrative law judge said in an opinion made public Wednesday.

Sen. Tom Berryhill of Twain Harte and his brother, former Assemblyman Bill Berryhill of Ceres, are disputing the judge’s recommendation, which will go before the California Fair Political Practices Commission next month. Both are Republicans.

Administrative Law Judge Jonathan Lew recommended that Tom Berryhill and his campaign committee should be fined up to $35,000, while Bill Berryhill and his committee should be fined up to $10,000. He said the Republican central committees in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties should each be fined up to $10,000 for transferring $40,000 between the brothers’ legislative campaigns.

The fines could be split between the parties in instances where the judge found shared responsibility.

The Sacramento attorneys representing the two brothers, Charles Bell Jr. and Brian Hildreth, and Eileen Ricker, Tom Berryhill’s Senate spokeswoman, did not immediately return telephone messages.

The developments are the latest in a string of adverse findings against sitting senators. Sen. Rod Wright took leave last week after he was convicted by a Los Angeles County jury of voter fraud and perjury for lying about his legal residence. His fellow Democrat, Sen. Ron Calderon of Montebello, took leave this week after he was indicted on federal corruption charges. Their departures stripped Senate Democrats of their two-thirds supermajority.

“The Berryhills laundered money from one to another to give themselves an unfair advantage in an election,” said Gary Winuk, chief of the commission’s Enforcement Division. “It’s one of the most serious violations of the (Fair Political Practices) act, if not the most serious.”

At the time, Tom Berryhill was an assemblyman seeking re-election to the 25th Assembly District. Bill Berryhill was in a successful, but cash-strapped, campaign to represent the 26th Assembly District. Bill Berryhill subsequently lost a bid to join his brother in the Senate.

The brothers contend that there was no guarantee that Tom Berryhill’s money would go from the Republican central committees to Bill Berryhill, but Lew rejected that argument.

“It was understood by all that the contributions from Tom Berryhill to the two central committees were to go to Bill Berryhill’s campaign,” he found, citing evidence including phone calls, emails and text messages.

“The violations were serious and deliberate,” Lew wrote of Tom Berryhill’s actions. “By their nature, the violations involved an intention to conceal, deceive or mislead.”

He found Bill Berryhill to be less culpable because he was in his first campaign and was not heavily involved in his campaign’s fundraising.

The recommendation by Lew, who heard testimony in November, will go before the commission on April 17. Commissioners can accept, reject or modify the recommendation. The judge’s recommendation was released Wednesday because the commission was required to make it public 30 days after it was completed.