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Judge to hear money-laundering case against politician brothers

December 13, 2012 | 12:39 pm

APphoto_State LegislatureAn administrative law judge will hear evidence on allegations that state Sen. Tom Berryhill (R-Modesto) illegally used two county Republican committees to launder $40,000 in political funds to benefit the 2008 election effort of his brother, former Assemblyman Bill Berryhill (R-Stockton).

The accusation was made by the state Fair Political Practices Commission, which alleges 16 violations of campaign finance laws punishable by fines of up to $80,000. The panel took the case up Thursday, agreeing to let it be heard by an administrative law judge.

Bill Berryhill was running for the state Assembly in 2008 and Tom Berryhill was running for reelection to the body when Tom allegedly provided his brother with $20,000 in contributions through the Stanislaus Republican Central Committee and a like amount through the San Joaquin County Republican Central Committee, the FPPC alleges.

The contributions broke money laundering laws because they were made in the name of the central committees when in fact their source was Tom Berryhill's campaign committee, the written accusation says. The contributions also allegedly violated the $3,600 contribution limit on Tom Berryhill's campaign and led to violations involving false reporting on campaign finance documents.

At issue is a fundraiser held by Tom Berryhill on Oct. 28, 2008. "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 said. On the same days that Tom Berryhill contributed $20,000 to the two committees, they in turn contributed the amount to Bill Berryhill’s campaign, the accusation says.

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

"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 under Proposition 34."

The attorney accused the FPPC of having "an animus about political party committees, and this animus is driving their pursuit of this enforcement case."


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-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Photo:  Former Assemblyman Bill Berryhill lost an election bid for the Senate this year. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press