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Berryhill fined in laundering scheme
Tom Berryhill.tif
Tom Berryhill - photo by Contributed to the Courier

An administrative law judge has ruled that state Senator Tom Berryhill, as well as the Republican central committees in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, must pay a $40,000 fine for 2008 violations of state campaign finance laws as charged by the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).

The FPPC alleged that Berryhill and brother and former state Assemblyman Bill Berryhill laundered $40,000 in campaign funds during 2008 when both were running for Assembly in neighboring districts.

The allegations claim that Ceres native Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, channeled $40,000 to help his brother buy TV commercials when state law limits such contributions to $3,600. The alleged scheme occurred in the week prior to the 2008 election as Bill Berryhill was running against Hilmar area farmer and Democrat John Eisenhut.

The campaign money in question was requested by campaign manager Carl Fogliani of Stockton to pay for TV commercials already in the works.

The FPPC asserted that Tom Berryhill generated $50,000 during an Oct. 28, 2008 fundraiser at the home of Matt Bruno, fully anticipating turning the money over to his brother. An Oct. 29 email from Tom Berryhill to Fogliani included the words, "Think I can get mony (sic) earlier," while on Oct. 30 Tom Berryhill's campaign committee gifted $20,000 to the Stanislaus County Republican Central Committee. That same day, the Central Committee turned around and donated $20,000 to Bill Berryhill's campaign, the FPPC reported.

Fogliani emailed Tom Berryhill on Oct. 31, asking "Find any new dough?" That same day, Tom Berryhill's committee wrote a $20,000 check to the San Joaquin County Republican Central Committee, which in turn cut a check to Bill Berryhill's campaign committee for $21,000.

It is legal for a central committee to accept up to $30,200 per donor but state law does not permit money changing hands to conspire to skirt campaign laws which forbid funds to be made in the name of another person or entity. The rule is prohibited by the Political Reform Act "because it deprives the public of important information about the true source of campaign contributions and it facilitates the unlawful circumvention of campaign contribution limits." The complaint against the Berryhills, says both central committees, were used as a "mere ‘straw man.'"

The complaint concluded that "by splitting his contribution between two central committees," Tom Berryhill "made sure that every penny would go to his brother's committee."

The Bill Berryhill campaign, said the FPPC, filed a report that falsely claimed the $20,000 and $21,000 donations came from the county committees and not his brother.

Attorney Charles Bell defended Tom Berryhill said no money laundering took place because the central committees independently decided to contribute to Bill Berryhill's campaign. However, the complaint notes that both central committees did not have enough money to give Bill Berryhill until Tom Berryhill came through with his money.

The commission sought penalties of up to $80,000.
Bell said the brothers and their respective committees chose a public hearing - held in November - because they felt they would be vindicated before an administrative law judge. The parties didn't deny the transfers but denied a conspiracy to run a shell game. Testifying to that idea was Supervisor Jim DeMartini of Ceres who is also in charge of the Stanislaus County Republican Central Committee. DeMartini said the two committees automatically wanted to channel the money to Bill Berryhill as he was in a serious political fight. He called the decision by Jonathan Lew "wrong."

The Berryhills are the sons of Clare Berryhill, a well-known Ceres farmer who served in the state Assembly and as director of California Food and Agriculture Department before he ran against Gary Condit in 1989.

Bill Berryhill, a Ceres grape grower who rose from a trustee on the Ceres Unified School District Board of Trustees to state Assembly, was defeated in 2012 for the 5th Senate District by Democrat challenger Cathleen Galgiani.