Ex-official told to apologize to donors, citizens for crimes

AP News
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Posted: Dec 14, 2015 6:19 PM
Ex-official told to apologize to donors, citizens for crimes

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Former New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran, once among the state's highest-ranking elected officials, wiped tears from her face Monday as she listened to a district judge outline what will be expected of her over the next five years as punishment in a campaign finance scandal.

For violating the very laws she was expected to uphold, Duran must hand-deliver letters of apology to political donors, write another letter to the citizens of New Mexico, perform thousands of hours of community service and make at least four public appearances each month for the next three years to share her story with school children and civic groups.

Judge T. Glenn Ellington said political officials in New Mexico who have been convicted of crimes have been allowed for too long to disappear into anonymity after serving prison time.

"We're going to remedy that defect," Ellington told Duran, hoping that his recipe for justice would restore faith in the secretary of state's office.

"You wouldn't be here probably if you had been a candidate for city hall," Ellington said in the packed Santa Fe courtroom. "The reason you are here is that you were entrusted by the people of the state of New Mexico to enforce the campaign laws. And that is a portion of the crime that you have committed."

Duran also was sentenced to 30 days in jail for siphoning money from her election account to fuel a gambling addiction in a case that has led to calls for an overhaul of the state's campaign finance and ethics laws. Once released from custody, she will wear a GPS tracking device for at least two years to ensure she stays away from casinos in New Mexico.

Duran pleaded guilty in October to felony embezzlement and money laundering charges and four misdemeanor counts while resigning from office under an agreement with state prosecutors — a deal the judge largely overwrote.

Ellington initially ordered a 7.5 year prison sentence then suspended all but 30 days of it. He also told Duran to report to jail Friday after he denied a motion that would have allowed her to spend time with her family over the holidays.

Duran's lawyer was given until noon Wednesday to decide whether to withdraw her pleas since the sentence included jail time. Prosecutors had recommended probation.

Because Duran's case involved private campaign donations and not taxpayer funds, the judge said the damage was much broader given her position as the state's top elections regulator.

He ordered Duran to pay a $14,000 fine, make restitution of nearly $14,000 to campaign donors, serve five years of probation and perform 2,000 hours of community service while writing the letters of apology and making regular public appearances to educate school children and others about a career cut short by her crimes.

Duran's public pension of nearly $60,000 a year will remain intact, despite a 2012 law that allows judges to increase sentences against the value of salary and fringe benefits. The wording of the law lacks teeth, according to New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas.

Choking back tears before the sentence was announced, Duran said she was sorry and asked for forgiveness and leniency.

"I'll apologize to the people of New Mexico, to my family and my friends," she said.

A former state senator from Tularosa, Duran had sought leniency in court filings, citing undisclosed personal hardships and a worsening gambling disorder. A mental health assessment was submitted to the court and has been kept under seal.

Defense attorney Erlinda Johnson said her client's gambling problem dates to 2010, the year she became the first Republican elected secretary of state since 1928. Johnson said the gambling spiraled out of control in 2012 and 2013.

If Duran rejects the sentence, the court would reinstate a 65-count criminal complaint alleging Duran mingled campaign and personal funds as she made cash withdrawals in 2012 and 2013 of more than $400,000 at various New Mexico casinos.

Duran still has faithful supporters in state government who urged leniency at the sentencing.

State Sen. Bill Sharer said Duran cared about her constituents and that she didn't take taxpayer money. The Republican lawmaker said Duran already has paid a high price by losing her reputation and her dream of public service.

"She didn't harm anybody but herself," he said.

Judge Ellington said Duran violated the public's right to know about the source and destination of campaign donations.

Gov. Susana Martinez intends to announce her pick to take over the secretary of state's office by the end of the week.