Former state Sen. Tony Strickland pays $40k to resolve money laundering case

Former state Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, and a campaign committee have paid $40,000 in penalties to resolve charges by the state Fair Political Practices Commission that they laundered money in his failed 2010 bid for state controller.

Under the settlement approved Thursday, Strickland, the Strickland for Controller campaign, and the campaign’s treasurer, Lysa Ray, admitted violating California’s Political Reform Act.

The commission said they illegally funneled $65,000 through the Republican parties of Ventura and Stanislaus counties to circumvent campaign donation limits.

The commission’s board unanimously approved the settlement at its meeting in Sacramento. Neither Strickland or Ray attended.

The Stanislaus County Republican Party settled with the commission in March, paying $10,000 in penalties and admitting violating the Political Reform Act, commission spokesman Jay Wierenga said.

The Ventura County Republican Party has refused to settle alleged multiple violations of the act, opting to argue its case before an administrative law judge at a pending hearing, he said.

Galena West, the commission’s chief of enforcement, said the commission is “pleased Mr. Strickland accepted responsibility for the violations. The maximum fine imposed sends a message that this type of activity will be aggressively prosecuted and will not be tolerated.”

But Strickland said in a statement that he didn’t launder any money.

“I am very pleased that this matter has been resolved. But, I want to be clear that there was no money laundering,” he said. “I never solicited a party donation for me. In 2010, I was one of the top fundraisers in the state and raised money for the Republican ticket.”

Noting the case is more than six years old, “I felt that it was the best interest to settle … in order to move forward,” he said.

The case initially involved 16 charges punishable by up to $80,000 in fines, Wierenga said. The settlement reduced the number of charges to eight with a maximum fine of $40,000. Each charge carries up to a $5,000 penalty.

Though she ultimately voted to approve the settlement, Commissioner Maria Audero had her doubts about it.

“I feel he just bought his way out of all sorts of problems for 40 grand,” she said, adding that Strickland had “stonewalled” investigators.

The commission’s report notes that “Strickland … and Ray did not cooperate with the investigation of this matter.”

The report states that “the evidence shows that Strickland received a total of $65,000 in contributions from three donors through the Ventura County Republican Party and the Stanislaus County Republican Party.”

The donors were Andrew Barth, a San Marino investment manager; Matthew Swanson, president of Associated Feed & Supply Co. in Turlock; and William Templeton, a Texas businessman in the oil and gas industry.

“In 2010, VCRP and SCRP made $65,000 in contributions to Strickland for Controller,” the report states. “However, (the) VCRP and SCRP were not the true sources of the contributions. The true sources … were concealed.

“Strickland caused Templeton, Barth and Swanson to give $65,000 in contributions to his campaign illegally through VCRP and SCRP,” the report states.

Individuals in 2010 were limited to contributing no more than $6,500 to a candidate for state controller, the commission said. But there were no limits on contributions made from a political party county central committee to that candidate, the commission said.

A commission memo last month said that the Ventura County Republican Party made $45,000 of the contributions.

Mike Osborn, chairman of the Ventura County Republican Central Committee, said Thursday the party is innocent of the allegations.

“The FPPC offered us a settlement and we rejected it because it required that we admit wrongdoing and we did nothing wrong,” he said.

But Wierenga said the commission’s case against the Ventura County Republican Party “has been given further strength and credence by the fact that now two of the three parties involved, Mr. Strickland and the Stanislaus County Republican Party, have admitted guilt to the violations.”

Strickland lost the race for controller to incumbent John Chiang, a Democrat, 36 percent to 55 percent of statewide voters. Strickland lost to Chiang for the same office in 2006.

Strickland was a state Assembly member from 1998 until 2004, and a state senator from 2008 to 2012.

This month, he was named the California chairman of a new super PAC that supports presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, The Committee for American Sovereignty.

Strickland’s wife, Audra, is also a former Assembly member.

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