New Mexico secretary of state charged with theft

AP News
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Posted: Aug 29, 2015 4:16 AM
New Mexico secretary of state charged with theft

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico's Democratic attorney general on Friday charged Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran with embezzlement, fraud, money laundering and campaign finance violations, further widening a rift between the two over enforcement of the state's laws governing campaigns.

Attorney General Hector Balderas' office filed the 64-count complaint late Friday in state district court in Santa Fe. Balderas did not make a statement or hold a news conference to announce the complaint against Duran, one of the highest-ranking Republicans in the state.

Balderas spokesman James Hallinan said the office would not be releasing any information beyond the court filing. "Our office will proceed transparently by way of preliminary hearing," he said.

Duran and her spokesman did not return phone and email messages seeking comment. But late Friday, Duran's lawyer, Erlinda Johnson, issued a statement.

"We have just been served with the complaint and information filed by the State Attorney General's Office," Johnson said. "We are in the process of reviewing them. We ask the public not to jump to conclusions and we look forward to addressing the allegations in court."

The attorney general's investigation stemmed from a confidential tip the office received in July 2014. Duran was accused of funneling contributions intended for her campaign into personal accounts for her own use.

According to the complaint, the investigation centered on deposits of large amounts of cash as well as campaign contributions into both personal and campaign accounts controlled by the secretary of state. The movement of money often culminated with cash expenditures at casinos throughout the state, the complaint states.

Investigators obtained subpoenas for multiple casinos where Duran withdrew cash. Records show those electronic debits totaled more than $282,000 in 2014 alone. Another $147,641 was withdrawn in 2013.

The complaint also cites a series of detailed bank transactions as well as donations from supporters, calling into question her campaign finance reports.

In addition to the numerous felony and misdemeanor embezzlement and money laundering charges, Duran also faces counts of tampering with public records, conspiracy and violating the state's Governmental Conduct Act

"Dianna J. Duran did use her powers and status as a public officer, employee and office of the Secretary of State to obtain personal benefit or pursue private interests, conduct herself in a manner that did not maintain the integrity, ethics, responsibilities of public service," the complaint states.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez said she has talked with Balderas about the charges against the secretary of state.

"These allegations are deeply troubling and concerning, and all relevant state agencies have and will continue to assist the Attorney General throughout the process," Martinez said in a statement. "It's important that New Mexicans understand that no one is above the law and that every New Mexican is treated equally under our system."

Balderas and Duran have been sparring over campaign finance reports for months. In February, the two announced a joint task force to study the reporting and enforcement of campaign finance laws. But just months later, Duran accused Balderas of submitting three late campaign finance reports during his time as state auditor.

Balderas fired back, calling the allegations incorrect and saying they highlighted flaws in the state's reporting process. He said at the time that he was concerned about the integrity of the data and records at the Secretary of State's Office.

Balderas sent Duran a letter in June describing what he saw as shortcomings in the current system and suggested that legislators needed to put teeth back into the Campaign Reporting Act by reinstating mandatory fines for violations. Officials had acknowledged the previous month that they weren't clear on how many violations were being investigated.

State law requires that candidates' reports list donations and expenditures. The public documents are also supposed to list the donations' sources.

Balderas said his office had received only one criminal referral from the secretary of state for a violation of the reporting law.

A review by The Daily Times newspaper in Farmington also showed that Duran's office collected only 4 percent of roughly 2,000 fines imposed on candidates during the 2012 and 2014 primary and general elections.

In response, Duran said she had been working diligently since taking office in 2011 to address problems tied to the reporting system.

Duran, a former Otero County clerk and state lawmaker, is serving her second term as the state's top elections official. She was the first Republican to be elected to the office in eight decades, inheriting an agency that had been plagued by scandal.

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Montoya Bryan reported from Albuquerque, N.M.

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Follow Russell Contreras at http://twitter.com/russcontreras .