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Washington state ex-campaign director sentenced for embezzlement

By Jonathan Kaminsky

OLYMPIA, Washington (Reuters) - The former head of a Democratic Party fundraising committee in Washington state has been sentenced to over a year in prison for embezzling in excess of $300,000 in campaign contributions to feed an alcohol-fueled gambling habit, prosecutors said on Tuesday.

Michael King, 32, pleaded guilty in October to four counts of first-degree theft and four counts of second-degree theft.

He concealed the theft from the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee in part by reporting it as a series of phony reimbursements for political polling, according to court documents.

King County Superior Court Judge John Erlick sentenced King to just over one year in prison to be followed upon his release by an equal term in community custody, the state's version of parole.

King must also pay $250,000 in restitution and participate in alcohol and gambling addiction treatment programs, said his attorney, Lyle Tenpenny.

"Alcohol is one reason these things happened but it has been important to Michael in this process not to use it as an excuse," Tenpenny said.

Because King's scheme involved inventing data for internal polls used by Democratic campaign strategists, the case raises questions about whether they were misled in deploying funds in last year's election season.

State Senate Democrats netted a loss of one seat in 2012, a year in which the party handily won the governor's race and President Barack Obama won the state by 15 points over Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

The party held a 26 to 23 majority in the state Senate after the 2012 election, but later lost control of the chamber when two conservative Democrats opted to caucus with Republicans to form a majority coalition.

Among the races the party lost in 2012 was one where conservative Republican state Senator Don Benton retained his seat by a 74-vote margin.

Charging documents in the case show that King spent the money he embezzled on alcohol and gambling, with a review of his bank records showing dozens of withdrawals to at least three area casinos. He admitted his misdeeds under questioning by police in June and was criminally charged in September.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Eric Walsh)

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