Democratic party chief suspect in embezzlement

SEATTLE — A state Democratic Party strategist is under investigation for allegedly stealing tens of thousands of dollars from the campaign committee he ran for Democrats in the state Senate.

Three Democratic senators said Saturday they are trying to figure out how long the now-suspended executive director Michael King allegedly had been embezzling from the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee and how much had been taken.

“The evidence at this point is pretty clear that there was money taken by Michael for his benefit,” Paul Lawrence, attorney for the committee said Saturday.

He didn’t know how much had been taken. But when asked about reports that it could range between $35,000 and $100,000 he said: “We’re certainly looking at reimbursements at the high end of that range.”

Specifically, senators question $11,500 in payments to King in January for polling and research. They’re trying to determine if the money went to outside contractors.

Those payments “raised serious red flags,” said Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle. “There’s polling going on for what. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Similarly, King was paid several thousand dollars for polling and research work in December, which is now being scrutinized. He also received a $4,000 bonus in December.

King, who was hired as executive director in 2011, has not been arrested and has not been charged.

King will cooperate with the investigation, his attorney said Saturday.

“On the advice of his physician and support of his family, Michael is currently seeking in-patient treatment for personal issues,” said attorney Lyle Tenpenny of Yarmuth Wilsdon in Seattle. “He intends to cooperate with the investigation and looks forward to doing so after receiving this much-needed treatment.”

King told friends he’s battling addictions to alcohol and gambling, senators said. Tenpenny would not confirm nor deny that.

The Senate Democratic Campaign Committee serves as the political arm of the Democratic caucus. Three Seattle senators — Frockt, Ed Murray and Sharon Nelson — serve as the co-chairs and it has a staff of four paid employees, including King.

In 2012, the committee raised $1,057,616 and spent nearly all of it in support of candidates. Money was spent on polling, research, getting out the vote and direct contributions to candidates.

This year, in January, the committee reported contributions of $41,144 and expenditures of $33,861, according to records filed with the Public Disclosure Commission.

King, who is a Connecticut native, joined the SDCC in 2011 after a two-year stint with WinPower Strategies, a political consulting firm in Seattle.

He also worked on Democratic Sen. Patty Murray’s re-election campaign in 2004 and helped direct the state Democratic Party’s coordinated campaigns in 2006 and 2008.

He came under suspicion Wednesday when the committee’s treasurer Jason Bennett of Argo Strategies informed senators of possible wrongdoing; they in turn contacted the committee’s lawyers.

That same day, King was suspended and locks to the office changed, Lawrence said.

Since Thursday, there been conversations with the King County prosecuting attorney, Seattle police and the state Public Disclosure Commission. Invoices and other documents are being collected with King providing some through his friends, Lawrence said.

Senators are determined to turn everything into authorities even if King offers to repay any missing funds.

“That would be a great start,” Lawrence said. “We are going to provide that evidence to the police department.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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