Governor names replacement for disgraced secretary of state

AP News
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Posted: Dec 15, 2015 1:38 PM
Governor names replacement for disgraced secretary of state

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico's governor on Tuesday named a long-serving Republican city councilor from Albuquerque as secretary of state to oversee an elections oversight agency upended by a campaign finance scandal.

Brad Winter, a councilor since 1999 and a longtime public school administrator, is expected to guide the agency through the November general election, when a new secretary of state will be chosen and take office in January 2017.

Winter worked with Albuquerque Public Schools for more than 20 years and served a stint as interim superintendent in 2014. He replaces Dianna Duran as secretary of state.

Gov. Susana Martinez praised Winter's skills and temperament.

"His experience as a long-time administrator who has managed large budgets, capital and information technology projects, and sizeable staffs will be key to overseeing a successful and well-run election next year," she said in a statement.

Duran has until Wednesday to accept a monthlong jail sentence ordered as part of a plea agreement involving felony embezzlement and money-laundering charges filed after she was accused of siphoning money from her election account to fuel a gambling addiction.

Her elaborate sentence also calls for making in-person apologies to campaign donors and appearances before school children to explain how her career was cut short by the scandal.

Duran could choose to withdraw her guilty pleas under an agreement with prosecutors. The scandal has led to calls for an overhaul of New Mexico's campaign finance and ethics laws.

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

Under the proposed sentence, Duran must 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 at charities. She would wear a GPS tracking device for at least two years after leaving jail to ensure she stays away from casinos.

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.

District Judge T. Glenn Ellington told a packed courtroom in Santa Fe on Monday that Duran's five year probation was designed to go beyond simple punishment or mercy to provide personal rehabilitation and restore public faith in officials holding public office.

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.