A former Española Public School District lobbyist and his wife have been indicted on charges of racketeering, fraud and making false vouchers for the alleged theft of $24,897 from the District.
The Attorney General’s Office brought the charges against Joseph Torres, 45, and wife Lianne Martinez, 31, after they raided their house, and Rio Arriba County Commissioner Barney Trujillo’s house, on Jan. 20, 2017.
A week prior to those raids, Attorney General’s Office investigators raided the Española School District, Jan. 14. The search warrant served on the District named Trujillo, Torres and Martinez as the targets of the investigation.
A Rio Arriba grand jury indicted Torres and Martinez on a total of 15 felonies: two counts of fraud between $500 and $2,500, four counts of fraud between $2,500 and $20,000, six counts of making a false public voucher, racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering and conspiracy to commit fraud.
The indictments were signed on June 6 and a summons was issued on June 8 for Martinez and Torres to appear for their arraignment at 10:30 a.m., June 26 in Tierra Amarilla District Court. Bond will be set at the arraignment.
Until then, they have been ordered not to leave the country, although they may leave the state.
Attorney General’s Office Prosecutor Peter Valencia filed a notice of joinder on June 7.
According to the indictment, Torres and Martinez allegedly bilked the District on six different occasions, which appear to be a result of a contract Martinez had between the District and her company, Enviro-Kleen LLC.
Torres is not listed as an owner or member of Enviro-Kleen.
The only person to testify to the grand jury was Agent Brian Crafton.
According to the contract signed in 2015, the District could contact Martinez with requested janitorial supplies, Martinez would order them and have them shipped to the District and charge the District 10 percent above what she paid.
She also charged the District freight fees, even though those costs were included in the original prices.
Martinez’s attorney, Dan Cron, of Santa Fe, wrote a letter to the District. Jan. 26, 2017, stating it overpaid Martinez $16,626 because she added the fictitious freight cost to four of her invoices in 2015.
He wrote that Martinez took the per-pound FedEx Ground shipping rate and used that to calculate how much extra she charged the District.
The repayment to the District was for four transactions in 2015 and the contract was only set to last a year. Although Cron only listed the estimate dates, they appear to be the same transactions that form the basis of the criminal charges.
Martinez did not pay back the district for the two transactions done in 2016, after the contract expired.
According to vouchers from the District and the indictments, the amount Martinez and Torres allegedly fraudulently charged the district varied from 22 percent of the total voucher to 32 percent.
If convicted on all counts, Torres and Martinez face a maximum sentence of 39 years in prison.
Cron said, in a Tuesday telephone interview, that Martinez paid back the money.
“It was a simple mistake and to me it’s a clear case of overcharging a case that should not have been charged at all,” he said. “There was absolutely no intent for any wrongdoing by anybody associated with Enviro-Kleen. When legal counsel was consulted about the contract, Enviro-Kleen immediately made it right with the Schools and paid back every penny.”
He said Martinez was willing to pay back the District for the transactions in 2016, but the District never responded to Cron’s initial letter notifying stating he wanted to know if the District thought the extra money should be paid back.
“These two people should have never been charged and especially when you take into consideration, these racketeering charges,” he said. “This is completely overblown.”
Cron said he has defended other clients on racketeering charges before.
“I’ve never seen it charged in this context,” he said. “These folks aren’t John Dillinger, Al Capone or Bugs Morgan. The racketeering statute was designed to penalize people in organize crime and to charge the Torreses with racketeering is ridiculous.”
Martinez and Torres are both charged with racketeering, a second-degree felony.
According to the indictment, between January 26, 2015 and April 22, 2016, they allegedly participated “in the conduct of an enterprise’s affairs by engaging in a pattern of racketeering activity and the defendant was employed by or associated with the enterprise.”
According to the racketeering statute, it was passed in 1978 to “eliminate the infiltration and illegal acquisition of legitimate economic enterprise by racketeering practices and the use of legal and illegal enterprises to further criminal activities.”
It is defined as “any act that is chargeable or indictable under the laws of New Mexico” involving any of 20 specific crimes. Listed among the crimes is fraud.
Racketeering is a second-degree felony with a maximum sentence of nine years.
Attorney General’s Office Investigator Jon Bergevin also submitted records requests in 2016 and 2017 to the District and Rio Arriba County requesting contracts and documents from Torres, Trujillo and David Jason Vigil, a foreman for Enchantment Painting, Fencing and Landscaping, LLC.
Vigil and the company he worked for completed much of the La Arbolera project in Chimayó, even though he did not have the proper licenses to do most of the work.
When investigators raided the District, they seized emails, computers and communications from 25 people including Torres, Trujillo, former superintendent Eric Martinez, former superintendent Danny Trujillo and Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez.
Torres has also worked for Rio Arriba County as a lobbyist.