Co-op Trustee Turns Down Settlement Offer

From the 2019 Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative Elections series
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Bruce Duran 9-30-19

Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative District 6 Trustee Bruce Duran listens to testimony during a hearing in First Judicial District Court Sept. 30.

A legal firm representing the Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative sent a letter to the newly-reinstated District 6 Trustee Bruce Duran offering him $50,000 to never serve on the Board of Trustees again.

Cuddy & McCarthy, LLP Attorney Stephen Royce sent the letter to Duran’s attorney A. Blair Dunn Oct. 4 on behalf of the Co-op.

Royce wrote the $50,000 would be paid to Duran within 10 days after the execution of a confidential settlement agreement.

The letter states the offer expired Monday at 5 p.m.

Duran said he refused it.

“I was shocked that they would offer me money to step down off the Board and there is no way I could accept it,” he said in a Wednesday (10/9) telephone interview.

The letter includes three abbreviated provisions that would have been included in the confidential settlement agreement.

In exchange for the $50,000, Duran would have had to dismiss his claims in a lawsuit filed on his behalf by Dunn in First Judicial District Court, the settlement would have to be and remain confidential and he would never be able to serve on the Board in any capacity.

“Mr. Duran agrees not to become a candidate or take up any position as a member of the JMEC (Co-op) Board of Trustees on behalf of a District or At Large for the remainder of his lifetime, or serve in any capacity regarding the Board of Trustees,” Royce wrote.

The Board did not certify Duran’s June 26 election results, despite him running uncontested. Then Board secretary and District 5 Trustee Charlie Trujillo said at the June 28 Board meeting that there was an active investigation as to whether Duran met the qualifications for Co-op membership.

Co-op Contract Attorney Charles Garcia, who also works for Cuddy & McCarthy, LLP, presented evidence at a July 3 special meeting that he said showed Duran was not paying for his electricity, which is a requirement for membership in the bylaws. Garcia also said Duran may not be a bona fide resident of his District, another requirement to serve on the Board.

A majority of the Board voted to declare Duran did not meet the qualifications to be a co-op member-owner, and was therefore not eligible to be a trustee.

Dunn filed an emergency application for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in the court July 17 challenging the Board’s decision that Duran did not qualify as a member.

Judge Bryan Biedscheid ordered the Board Sept. 30 to certify the results.

Royce did not return a message late Wednesday inquiring about who would have paid the $50,000 had Duran accepted the offer or who at the Co-op asked him to make the offer.

Co-op Board President and District 6 Trustee Leo Marquez also did not return a message late Wednesday inquiring about who on the Co-op’s Board directed Royce to write the letter.

Alleged bribe

Dunn characterized the offer as a bribe in a Wednesday (10/9) email response to Royce.

“Additionally, we need to address the attempt to avoid the Judge’s order by attempting to bribe Mr. Duran to leave the position of the Board to which he was elected and owes a fiduciary responsibility,” Dunn wrote.

Dunn said in a Wednesday (10/9) telephone interview attorneys disagree whether or not the rural electric cooperative boards of trustees are subject to the state Governmental Conduct Act, and are considered governmental actors or not. He believes they are.

“I think if that’s the case, then under the Governmental Conduct Act, if Bruce (Duran) were to take that $50,000 he would be committing a fourth degree felony,” Dunn said. “So when you bribe a government official to break the law, that is a criminal act.”

Those found guilty of violating the Act could be sentenced to up to 18 months in prison and ordered to pay a fine of up to $5,000 fine.

Even if Duran is not viewed as a government actor, Dunn said, taking the money would be highly unethical and would be a betrayal of the public’s trust and his fiduciary responsibility as a Co-op trustee.

“The member-owners of this Co-op need to start showing up (at Board meetings) and demanding answers and quick,” Dunn said. 

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available. The full story will appear in the Oct. 17 edition of the Rio Grande SUN.

(1) comment

Pam

Excellent investigative reporting. I wish we had some of your ilk in Las Cruces. It is without local, objective, investigative news. I commend you for the quality of your work.


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