A District Court Judge rejected another plea arrangement given to Henrietta Trujillo, who embezzled funds from Northern New Mexico College.
First Judicial District Court Judge Jason Lidyard said that the plea deal for embezzlement over $20,000, a second-degree felony, which would have sentenced Trujillo to 90 to 182 days of house arrest and a five-year probation period and pay more than $80,000 in restitution, was too lenient for the crime.
“There’s no reason why your plea agreement should differentiate with such significance,” Lidyard said, pointing to other theft cases that resulted in jail time. “I’m simply unable to accept this plea.”
In September, Lidyard rejected the first plea arrangement, which would have given Trujillo a nine-year suspended sentence with no jail time and forced her to pay back more than $80,000. In November, Lidyard denied a request from a district attorney to recuse himself from the case after making comments to the Santa Fe New Mexican.
According to Ihsan Ahmed, a lawyer for the state, Trujillo would take deposits to the bank and would convert cash to her personal use. This allegedly happened multiple times a week over a multi-year period.
Trujillo reportedly spent $519,817 at Pojoaque Pueblo casinos between 2007 and 2016.
She resigned from her position as finance director at Northern New Mexico College in March 2017.
New Mexico State Police Agent Mitch Bengston found a total of $81,910 in cash was taken from the College, and an additional $167,433 in checks were never deposited or cashed.
Trujillo told Bengston that when she “could not make ends meet,” she began to take the deposits from the safe and would keep the cash. She said she planned to be able to pay it all back after her personal financial situation improved.
Before issuing the ruling, Lidyard spoke for several minutes about the case, comparing it to other cases in the legal system.
He spoke about one case about a person who had robbed houses to supply a drug addiction and was facing a five-year prison sentence, which Lidyard said costs the state roughly $200,000.
In comparing these two cases, Lidyard said that the individual had committed five incidents over four months, while Trujillo’s was weekly for more than two years. The individual had stolen about $70,000, while Trujillo had stolen about $85,000. Rather than targeting private individuals, Trujillo’s theft was against a public institution.
“When I see a plea of this nature, and it being the responsibility of the court to ensure that the matters that come before it are dealt with equity and fairness, it doesn’t seem to coincide,” Lidyard said.
Lidyard also raised a hypothetical of an individual shoplifting every week from Walmart for two-and-a-half years and stealing items worth a total of $85,000. He said that Trujillo’s case should not be treated differently.
“That is why I take issue with the plea that was originally presented to me,” Lidyard said. “That’s why I take issue with the plea that is presented to me now.”
After Lidyard made his ruling, Trujillo withdrew her guilty plea.
The hearing took place over a virtual Google Meet, with about a dozen people in attendance, including College President Rick Bailey.
Trujillo’s case will have a docket call on Dec. 21, a status hearing Jan. 26, 2021, and a jury selection hearing on Feb. 8, 2021.