New Mexico official reports to jail for embezzlement term

AP News
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Posted: Dec 18, 2015 2:11 PM
New Mexico official reports to jail for embezzlement term

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Former New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran surrendered to deputies and was booked into jail Friday to serve a 30-day sentence for siphoning money from her election account to fuel a gambling spree.

Her arrival at the Santa Fe County jail also starts the clock on an elaborate five-year probation designed to rehabilitate a professed gambling addict who tapped political campaign contributions when her own money ran out. It includes delivering in-person apologies to campaign donors, talking about her mistakes before students and civic groups, and writing an apology to the public to be published in newspapers across the state.

Duran, once among the state's top elected officials, changed into khaki scrubs as she was booked into the corrections center on a rural highway 14 miles south of Santa Fe. She will sleep in a 6-by-8-foot cell, according to county officials.

Defense attorney Erlinda Johnson said Friday that Duran has received insulting message by phone and email from strangers that included threats. She asked that it stop.

"It serves no purpose for those members of the public who have been lodging personal attacks and threats against Ms Duran to continue engaging in such uncivilized behavior," she said in an email. "Duran quickly accepted responsibility, will be paying full restitution and has profusely apologized."

At a sentencing hearing this week, District Judge T. Glenn Ellington told Duran she had a long way to go toward personal rehabilitation and restoring public trust in government officials.

"Many of your statements follow a pattern of rationalization, an excuse I hear from many addicts," Ellington said. He rejected a request to postpone Duran's jail term until after Christmas.

Inmates at the jail can get mail, but greeting cards and postcards are banned. The facility holds up to 144 women. Between meals, a community room offers board games, cards and television.

Like other inmates, Duran can spend up to $100 a week at a commissary store on toiletries and other essentials. Exact terms of her confinement depend on a physical and mental health evaluation.

Duran ran for secretary of state in 2010 on promises to eliminate voter fraud, and became the first Republican to hold the office since 1928.

Her gambling soon spiraled out control. Duran withdrew $148,000 in cash at casinos in 2012. The next year, she took out $283,000.

Struggling to keep up with household bills and debts to casinos, Duran misappropriated about $13,800 in campaign funds, her attorney said.

Undisclosed personal hardships contributed to the growing gambling disorder, Johnson said. A mental health assessment was submitted to the court and kept under seal.

Under the proposed sentence, Duran must return those campaign donations and pay a $14,000 fine. After jail, she will wear a GPS tracking device for at least two years to ensure she stays away from casinos.

Duran also must perform thousands of hours of community service and make 144 appearances before schools and civic groups across the state over the next three years to discuss her transgressions.

The sentence was designed, in the judge's words, to go beyond simple punishment or mercy and provide personal rehabilitation and restore public faith in officials holding office.

A Republican city councilor from Albuquerque was sworn in Tuesday to succeed Duran as secretary of state.

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